Record heat is searing the West for the second time this month. A massive heat dome is building over the region and is set to intensify for the latter half of this week. The heat wave could cause some all-time records to fall while worsening the region’s already catastrophic drought.
The region is already in the grips of sweltering temperatures. Over the weekend, temperatures topped 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46.1 degrees Celsius) in Phoenix and reached 110 degrees (43.3 degrees Celsius) in both Las Vegas and Palm Springs. The National Weather Service is warning of “dangerously hot conditions” on Monday across parts of Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah. More than 48 million people in 10 states are under a heat advisory watch or warning.
The extreme heat is only a taste of what’s the come, though, as high pressure spreads and locks in sunny skies and even more intense heat over a wide area. Later this week, temperatures from the Southwest to the Northern Rockies are forecast to be 15 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 13.8 degrees Celsius) above average. Thursday and Friday are expected to be particularly brutal.
Many daily and monthly heat records are expected to be broken, and some places may even see their highest temperatures in recorded history. Parts of California are expected to get as hot as 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius). Last Vegas is currently forecast to hit 116 degrees Fahrenheit (46.7 degrees Celsius) on Wednesday and again on Friday, just a degree off its all-time heat record. Record hot overnight lows in the 90s also mean cooling off will be nigh impossible without access to air conditioning.
But that will be tame compared to the heat at Furnace Creek in Death Valley. Regularly one of the hottest places on Earth, Furnace Creek is forecast to reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit (51.7 degrees Celsius) on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. That’s a shade off the record it set last year for the hottest temperature ever reliably recorded on Earth, but that’s hardly comforting. Even places as far north as Montana could reach triple-digit heat.
Extreme heat is becoming all the more common due to the climate crisis. It isn’t just uncomfortable, it can also be deadly. Research shows that high temperatures are the deadliest form of extreme weather on the planet due to increased threat of conditions like heat stress, heatstroke, and cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Older people are especially at risk, and the National Weather Service underscored that in its warnings this week referring to the heat as “DEADLY” in all caps.
The week’s severe heat will also further parch the West, which is experiencing a megadrought. The entirety of California, Utah, Nevada, and Oregon are in some form of drought, according to the Drought Monitor. The conditions are already spurring almond farmers to tear out their orchards, and California officials to create schemes to truck millions of salmon to the sea since waterways are too shallow and hot for the fish to navigate safely. Meanwhile, Lake Mead has dropped to its lowest levels since the Hoover Dam was built. This week’s heat will almost certainly make things much worse.
Perhaps the scariest thing about the coming heat it will make the West even more of a tinderbox, exacerbating wildfire conditions. Parts of the Southwest are already under “critical” or “extreme” fire warnings, and dire conditions could spread to the Northwest later this week. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there are 22 large blazes are already alight, including ones that prompted evacuations in California, Utah, and Arizona this past weekend. With more heat on the way, things are looking pretty terrifying. If you’re out there, please check the forecasts regularly and do all you can to stay safe.