Record Heat Wave Bakes Southwestern U.S.

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There was record heat in the Western U.S. over the weekend — Death Valley, California hit 129 degrees on Sunday.


As Nate Rott just told us, high temperatures have been a factor in the explosive growth of the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona. Those high temperatures spread across much of the Southwest. It's the fourth day of that intense heat. Aside from the firefighters, at least one other death is being blamed on the weather over the weekend. And authorities are treating people for heat-related illnesses from Phoenix to Las Vegas. NPR's Kirk Siegler spent much of the weekend in Death Valley National Park, which broke a heat record for June yesterday at 129 degrees.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: The National Weather Service has excessive heat warnings in place for much of this region through the Fourth of July. That would mark almost a week of temperatures stubbornly stuck above at least 110, from Las Vegas to Phoenix to Palm Springs, California. This is a region used to baking this time of year, but forecasters say this is almost unprecedented. Dan Berc is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Las Vegas.

DAN BERC: Well, this is a historic heat wave on many levels. We have been tying or beating daily records for the last several days, and that's been the case all across the Southwest - in Phoenix, Palm Springs and other areas of the Southwest.

SIEGLER: Here in Death Valley National Park, in the dusty lot behind the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, ranger Carole Wendler was taking yesterday's official 4 p.m. reading at a park service weather station.

CAROLE WENDLER: So it's 128 on June 30th.

SIEGLER: The temperature later hit 129, tying the U.S. record for June. It's so hot here that when you take a deep breath, your nose tingles, and the concrete singes your feet. After a few pictures were snapped, Wendler hurried for the shade of a carport.

WENDLER: Oh, we had kind of an excessive amount of interest, actually.

SIEGLER: Wendler says park officials try to discourage people from coming here when records are close to being broken, but they come anyway, even though a reading of 128 or 129 certainly isn't unheard of.

WENDLER: This has lasted for a little bit longer. So it has drawn more people, which is a concern with folks coming out and maybe not being totally prepared and able to handle the heat and maybe not always making the wisest choices.

SIEGLER: By mid-afternoon yesterday, a giddy crowd of tourists snapped photos in front of a digital sign displaying the unofficial temperature in front of the visitor center.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Are you kidding me? I already got 129. I want 130 or 131.

SIEGLER: Christopher Hill(ph) of New Zealand is passing through on a tour of California.

CHRISTOPHER HILL: Our car said 50 centigrade. That is just incredibly hot for us, eh?

SIEGLER: Hill had draped a damp shirt over his head, and after a couple of memento photos, he was as eager as everyone else to seek refuge inside the air-conditioned visitor center. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Furnace Creek, California.

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