Arizona and Nevada are gearing up the possibility of record temperatures. Firefighters facing small fires in California could be forced to do so in triple-digit heat. The Texas power grid operator urged residents to minimize their electricity use or risk blackouts.
A heat wave this week in the western United States, already facing the worst drought in two decades, will test power grids stressed by air conditioning and endanger those who cannot find help .
It hit 115 degrees in Phoenix on Monday, and temperatures are expected to continue to climb this week. Vincent Raynor has spent the last three days in a cooling center in suburban Chandler and his nights in a motel.
Before receiving this temporary accommodation a few months ago, Mr. Raynor lived on the streets for a few years, sometimes in dangerous heat.
“It’s so hot it burns your brain,” he said, adding, “Sometimes at night you can’t sleep because it’s so hot.
High temperatures can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, according to National Weather Service warnings issued for the western and southwestern regions. This week’s risk is particularly severe as temperatures are expected to stay high even when the sun goes down.
“There’s no relief overnight, so if people don’t have proper air conditioning and can’t cool off, there’s no such respite,” said Julie Malingowski, meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
Arid regions that depend on air conditioning can face power outages, which can be fatal in extreme heat or cold. More than 100 people died in Texas in a February storm that crippled the power grid as demand for heat increased as power plants went offline.
The current heat wave is expected to be the most intense and widespread through Saturday, threatening to exceed the highest temperatures on record in Arizona (128 degrees Fahrenheit) and Nevada (125). The world record of 134 degrees – which is now in question – was set in Death Valley, California in 1913.
High temperatures are also worsening forest fires in drought-affected areas, with fires reported in eight states on Monday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
More than 27,000 fires have burned 951,851 acres nationwide this year, according to the center. During the same period in 2020, 21,220 fires burned approximately 716,000 acres.
Arizona is battling seven wildfires, the most of any state. In Richard Williams’ 20 year life on a ridge overlooking the Pinal Mountains in County Gila, he has never seen fires sweep so close to his home and the antique store he runs with his partner, Elizabeth Moore.
When the flames started to rise above the hill next to their house, the couple were evacuated to a Red Cross shelter, where they spent several days. Their house and their store were spared by the flames. But the area is still hazy with smoke.
“Usually the sun goes down and it’s hotter than the flames,” Williams said. “But it was cool up there this morning – you couldn’t even see the sun.”
“It’s scary,” he added. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”