Death Valley hits 130 degrees as heat wave sweeps west

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FURNACE CREEK, Calif .– For Gary Bryant, walking a tenth of a mile from his modular home to the air-conditioned restaurant where he worked on Saturday was “enough” time outdoors.

Mr. Bryant, 64, knows the risks of summer temperatures in Death Valley. He once collapsed under a palm tree from heat exhaustion and had to crawl to a hose faucet to douse himself with water.

Mr Bryant lived and worked in Death Valley for 30 years, happy to balance the brutal summer heat with the dizzying mountain vistas, but even he admits that the high temperatures of recent years were testing his limits. The temperature climbed to 130 degrees on Friday and approached again on Saturday. It was expected to reach 130 again on Sunday.

“The first 20 summers have been a breeze,” he said. “The last 10 were a bit more difficult. “

The scorching heat over the weekend, one of the highest temperatures on Earth on record, matched a similar level to August 2020. These readings could set records if verified, as an earlier record of 134 degrees in 1913 has been disputed by scientists.

Much of the west faces new record high temperatures over the next few days, with more than 31 million people in areas subject to excessive heat warnings or heat advisories. This is the third heat wave to hit the region this summer.

The extreme temperatures that scorched the Pacific Northwest in late June claimed nearly 200 deaths in Oregon and Washington state as people struggled to stay cool in poorly air-conditioned homes, on the streets, in fields and warehouses.

The same “thermal dome” effect that enveloped the northwest – in which hot, dry ground traps heat and accelerates rising temperatures – swept across California and parts of the southwest over the weekend. .

Sarah Rogowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said daytime peaks between 100 and 120 degrees were hitting parts of California. More dangerously, temperatures will remain high overnight, oscillating between 15 and 25 degrees above average.

“When you start to get these hot temperatures at night combined with these high temperatures during the day, it really starts to create the effect,” Ms. Rogowski said. “People can’t calm down; it is much more difficult to get relief.

She said forecasters were also watching for impending thunderstorms that could cause lightning and fire hazards. Already on Friday, lightning sparked a rapid fire north of Lake Tahoe, prompting evacuations in California and Nevada, road closures and partial closure of the Plumas National Forest.

The blaze had doubled in size on Saturday as firefighters struggled to contain it. Evacuation orders have also been issued in southern Oregon in response to the rapidly spreading fires.

Record temperatures in the Pacific Northwest last week would have been virtually impossible without climate change, according to a team of climatology researchers. Because climate change has raised baseline temperatures by nearly two degrees Fahrenheit on average since 1900, heatwaves are likely to be hotter and deadlier than those of past centuries, scientists said.

Excess heat warnings cover most of California, as well as parts of Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Oregon, and Idaho.

California faces the most extreme and prevalent high temperatures. The agency that manages the state’s electricity grid, the California Independent System Operator, on Thursday asked consumers to reduce their electricity use to avoid blackouts. Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked residents to cut their water use by 15 percent as he expands a regional drought emergency to cover all but eight of the state’s 58 counties.

The town of Merced hit 111 degrees on Saturday, breaking the record of 108 set in 1961. Records could be broken this weekend in Fresno, Madera, Hanford and Bakersfield.

On Friday, towns and villages in the state’s central valley activated cooling centers and temporary housing.

The city of Sacramento opened three cooling centers and provided motel vouchers for families with young children and seniors who did not have regular housing.

It was the third time this summer that the city has activated cooling centers, said Daniel Bowers, the city’s director of emergency management. Last summer, Sacramento only activated cooling centers three times during the entire season – the third time was only in September.

This year, the city began its reaction to the heat early when a heat wave hit much of Northern California over Memorial Day weekend.

“It was kind of a revelation as to how the summer was going to play out,” Mr. Bowers said. With its fair share of practice in recent years, he said, the city is well prepared for weekend temperatures. But high nighttime temperatures pose particular risks for homeless people, he said.

Further down the valley in Modesto, which peaked at 108 degrees on Saturday, the Salvation Army said it had seen an increase in the number of people seeking shelter.

The shelter “sees people we wouldn’t normally see – normally people who are comfortable in their tents, they can sleep outside,” said Virginia Carney, director of the shelter.

Terri Castle, who has been staying at the Modesto shelter for a month, said she had spent the previous summers living on the streets and worried about people who had no place to cool off this week. -end.

“When you’re homeless you’re already in bad weather 24/7,” Ms Castle said. “And when the sun hits you, it’s hard to find a place to get shade. You can’t have enough water. During her few weeks at the shelter, she said, she noticed an increase in the number of people seeking relief from the heat.

A man was taken from the shelter by ambulance on Thursday after suffering from a heat-related illness. A woman who came to get water and food “just sat outside and looked so hot, like she had no energy,” Ms Castle said.

In Death Valley, the peak of 134 degrees recorded in 1913 was recognized as the hottest temperature on record on the planet. But a 2016 analysis by Christopher Burt, a weather expert, found the recording to be inconsistent with other regional observations, leading him to dispute whether the recording was “possible from a perspective. meteorological ”.

In any case, the recent sweltering temperatures have prompted their own form of tourism. As the number nears 130, people start lining up to take photos next to the digital thermometer outside the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.

Even on Saturday, with morning temperatures hovering close to 110 degrees, park visitors could golf, swim and hike early in the morning.

Ashley Dehetre, 22, and Katelyn Price, 21, descended into Badwater Basin around 9 a.m. with cooling towels around their necks and three liters of water strapped to each of their backs. Their 33-hour trip from Detroit and the triple-digit temperatures did little to calm their spirits, even after a worried phone call from Ms Price’s mother revealed the temperature at home was of 66 degrees.

“This sight in itself is so impressive it’s worth it,” Ms. Dehetre said. “So much better than Michigan.”

Tyler Lowey, who drove overnight from Los Angeles to celebrate his 25th birthday, ran 25 miles in the basin, which is the lowest point in North America. The challenge was part of a series of yearlong adventures he was attempting, including cycling across the country from Los Angeles to Miami next month. To prepare, he filled his car with plenty of water, amino acid powders, and fresh coconuts, which he found as a personal chef to be the best for combating heat fatigue.

Yet after only a mile and a half back he was drenched in sweat and ready to take a break and cool off in his car.

“The heat is zero,” he said. “But I kind of want to hit it, because the longer I wait, the hotter it gets.”

High on Zabriskie Point at sunrise, Anshuman Bapna, 42, absorbed the heat with a little more reserve. As the founder of an educational platform on climate change, he felt compelled to take a detour through his family’s planned trip from Palo Alto, Calif., To Zion National Park, via Death Valley to experience the extreme conditions.

“Heat waves like this are going to become even more common,” he said. “There is a bit of ‘see what you can’ before the world changes. “


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