Deadly Heat Wave Intensifies, Putting 100 Million Under Alert as Heat Dome Sweeps Western US

Dangerous Heat Wave Continues to Intensify Over Western United States

As a stifling heat wave continues to grip parts of the Western United States, forecasters are warning that the situation will only worsen this weekend. A heat dome, otherwise known as a high-pressure system, is intensifying and reaching peak strength over several areas of the country. Approximately 100 million people are now under heat alerts as the heat dome expands, including California, which is currently experiencing its first extreme heat wave of the year.

Texas, Florida, and Arizona have already been experiencing dangerously high temperatures for several weeks. In Phoenix, Arizona, the city is in the midst of a potentially record-breaking streak of consecutive 110-degree days. To put the severity of the heat into perspective, forecasters have advised residents of Las Vegas to avoid going outdoors between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., especially on Sunday when the city is forecasted to challenge its all-time high temperature of 117 degrees. Nighttime temperatures will offer little respite, with lows expected to be around 90 degrees, exacerbating the dangers of the ongoing climate crisis.

Even California’s Death Valley, which is known for its extreme temperatures, could potentially reach rare highs of 130 degrees on Sunday. This has only been seen a few times before, including when the global record high temperature of 134 degrees was recorded.

Experts attribute these extreme temperatures to human-caused climate change. This year has seen a number of climate-related records broken, including “unprecedented” ocean heat off Florida’s coast and in the North Atlantic, record heat in Beijing, and a heat wave in Europe that threatens to break temperature records.

Aside from the environmental implications, doctors are warning of the serious health risks associated with prolonged exposure to extreme heat. Dr. Matthew Levy of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine emphasizes that this heat is deadly, especially when people spend extended periods of time outdoors. Heat illness can occur in as little as 20 to 30 minutes for those engaging in strenuous outdoor activities. The elderly and individuals with pre-existing health conditions are particularly vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat.

Over the weekend, major metro areas like Phoenix and Las Vegas will face a serious risk of heat illness. The Southwest and California’s Central Valley are under an “extreme” level of heat risk, similar to a “high risk” for tornadoes. This designation warns of significant heat impacts and calls for adequate preparation. Hospitals may experience a surge in heat-related visits, and power outages are possible due to high demand. Outdoor workers and those without reliable cooling systems are particularly at risk.

To mitigate the dangers, Dr. Levy recommends frequent hydration breaks for outdoor workers, wearing sun-reflecting clothing, and establishing a buddy system to ensure no one is left alone in the heat during an illness. For individuals without access to cooling, finding a nearby cooling center and having a plan in place is essential.

Prior to this current heat wave, Phoenix’s Maricopa County has already reported 12 heat-related deaths this year, with 425 deaths recorded last year. The city has opened “respite centers” to alleviate some of the strain, and the state is urging residents to keep their vehicles stocked with water.

Even after this weekend, the high temperatures are expected to persist. According to temperature outlooks from the Climate Prediction Center, above-normal temperatures are expected across Southern California, the Southwest, South, and Florida in the coming weeks. As the summer progresses, the possibility of this year becoming the hottest on record remains a concern.