“Apocalyptic” heat wave is scorching the southwestern United States again


June 18 (Reuters) – An extreme heatwave that has already broken temperature records in the American Southwest threatened to bring power systems to the brink of failure on Friday as residents turned up air conditioning.

California’s electric utility companies, who previously left the lights on, released their latest “Flex Alarm” for Friday, urging homeowners across the state to save energy in the late afternoon and evening when demand rises.

The heat in the southwest amid years of drought has strained power grids in California and Texas, and fueled the spread of forest fires.

“The record heat, the smoke from forest fires wafting through the Sonoran Desert, and the news of the drought feel a bit apocalyptic,” said Emily Kirkland, communications organizer for a nonprofit group in Phoenix. “Even the 10-minute walk from my house to the tram made me uncomfortable.”

The National Weather Service has issued excessive heat warnings for five states – California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and parts of Colorado – warning that temperatures well above 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) can be dangerous.

“Very hot indoor conditions will last through Saturday, followed by a gradual cool down into the next week. Until then, BE CAREFUL as heat can be fatal! The National Weather Service Station for Los Angeles announced on Twitter.

RECORDS broken

Temperature records have already been set or broken in Salt Lake City, Palm Springs and elsewhere, and record highs of 117 degrees were forecast for Phoenix on Friday.

“It’s miserable, you literally don’t leave your house unless you have to,” said Hannah Knight, 20, a waitress at The Coronado coffee shop in Phoenix.

The morning sun rises over a quarter as a heat wave continues during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Encinitas, California, the United States, Aug. 19, 2020. REUTERS / Mike Blake / File Photo

The diner has an outdoor dining area, but “when it gets above 110 (degrees Fahrenheit) there is no way to get comfortable,” she said.

Many other cities were expected to hit or break their daily records, including Las Vegas, where a maximum temperature of 114 degrees was predicted.

A high pressure ridge or dome over the southwest has been blamed for the heat wave.

“It’s hot in the Southwest every year,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Oravec of the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. “It just seems more newsworthy when you have temperatures of 115 or so day in and day out. It’s pretty hot.”

Power systems in Texas and California have withstood the load so far, but operators said that if residents don’t conserve energy in the late afternoon, rolling blackouts may be required to keep the system running.

In Texas, where temperatures have weakened, demand hit a record on Monday, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

California’s electricity demand peaked at 41,364 megawatts on Thursday and should exceed that level on Friday, according to the California Independent System Operator, who operates the grid in most of the state. One megawatt can supply around 200 households with electricity on a hot day.

The heat wave stretched into the Midwest, causing weather services to issue warnings for Kansas, Missouri and Illinois before a strong cold front brings relief at the end of the weekend. Temperatures of over 100 degrees were forecast in St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, on Friday.

In relative terms, the south-west will also be relieved early next week, Oravec said.

Reporting by Scott DiSavino Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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