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Heat wave scorches much of US; record-setting temperatures predicted

portland, oregon — A slow-moving and potentially record-setting heat wave is spreading across the Western United States, the National Weather Service said, sending many residents in search of a cool haven from the dangerously high temperatures.

The Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. are also sweltering, with oppressive heat and humidity expected to last through Saturday.

Widespread temperature records are expected to be tied or even broken during the heat wave, with much of the West Coast likely to see temperatures that are between 15- and 30-degrees Fahrenheit (8 and 16 degrees Celsius) higher than average, the National Weather Service said.

“The duration of this heat is also concerning, as scorching above average temperatures are forecast to linger into next week,” the weather service said.

In the Portland, Oregon, suburb of Gresham, Sherri Thompson, 52, was waiting in her car with her 14-year-old Chihuahua Kiwani for a cooling center to open late Friday morning. Thompson has lived in her car for three years and can only run its air conditioning for about 20 minutes at a time as it causes the engine to overheat.

Thompson said the high temperatures prompted health concerns, as she has been hospitalized for heat stroke in the past.

“I have anxiety and panic attacks and I get worried,” she said. “I don’t want to have another heat stroke, and everything just triggers my anxiety a lot.” 

Pavement, sidewalks magnify heat

Inside the air-conditioned center, Multnomah County spokesperson Julia Comnes oversaw county staff and people working with a local homeless services provider as they lined up thin mattresses in rows on the floor and set up cots for people with disabilities. She said the space had capacity for up to 80 people.

“We had a pretty cool June, so our bodies aren’t totally acclimated yet to the heat,” she said. “For people living outside or more vulnerable people, the cooling space like this is really important for them to just cool off for a few hours.”

The blistering weather in the Portland region is expected to last at least through Monday, National Weather Service meteorologist Clinton Rockey said. If the triple-digit Fahrenheit temperatures (well over 37 degrees Celsius) stretch into Tuesday, then the region will match a record last seen in July 1941, with five consecutive days of more than 100-degree weather, Rockey said.

The duration is a problem: Many homes in the area lack air conditioning, and round-the-clock hot weather means people’s bodies can’t cool down at night. The issue is compounded in many city settings, where concrete and pavement can store the heat, essentially acting as an oven.

“That’s what drives people batty,” Rockey said. “It’s going to be obnoxious. And unfortunately for some people, if you’re not having good shelter, it could be a very challenging, life-threatening situation.”

Heat leads to 13 deaths

In Arizona’s Maricopa County, which encompasses the city of Phoenix, there have been at least 13 confirmed heat-related deaths this year, while the causes of more than 160 other suspected heat deaths were still under investigation, according to the county’s most recent report on such deaths through June 29.

That doesn’t include the death of a 10-year-old boy earlier this week in Phoenix, who suffered a “heat-related medical event” while hiking with his family at South Mountain Park and Preserve, according to the Phoenix Police Department.

Among extremes, the forecast for Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park calls for daytime highs of 129 degrees Fahrenheit (53.8 degrees Celsius) Sunday, and then around 130 F (54.44 C) through Wednesday. The official world record for hottest temperature recorded on Earth was 134 degrees F (56.67 C) in Death Valley in July 1913, but some experts dispute that measurement and say the real record was 130 F recorded there in July 2021.

At Bullhead City, Arizona, the temperature already had reached 111 F (44.4 C) by 11 a.m. Friday. The city opened a pair of cooling centers for seniors and others, but locals seemed to be taking it in stride.

“While this is a heat wave and we urge everyone to be cautious, we typically don’t see large attendance at our cooling centers unless there are power outages,” Bullhead City spokesperson Mackenzie Covert said Friday.

Figure skaters took to the ice at the Reno Ice Rink in Nevada starting at 6 a.m. Friday, general manager Kevin Sunde said. By the time the rink closes at 10:30 p.m. Friday, Sunde expected nearly 300 people would have visited, with more parents hanging around to watch kids’ hockey practice than usual.

“They may not be getting on the ice themselves, but enjoying the cool,” Sunde said. “We’re the only sheet of ice within about an hour’s drive.”