Almost 100 years ago to the day, Death Valley, Calif., registered the world’s highest temperature on record at 134 degrees Fahrenheit (57 Celsius).
By Monday it could break 130 degrees amid a heat wave that’s baking the western United States, sending dozens of people to hospitals and forcing communities to check up on their elderly, who are particularly susceptible to dying in the intense summer heat blanketing much of the Southwest.
From arid Tuscon, Ariz., to the crowded beaches of Southern California, Americans are seeking shelter. Several inland California cities, including Palmdale and Lancaster, which saw the mercury climb to as high as 114F (46C) on Saturday, could shatter records before the heat abates.
Since the unseasonably hot weather in the American Southwest started on Thursday afternoon, more than 170 people across the region have sought medical attention for dangerous heat exhaustion, Reuters reported on Saturday afternoon. Thirty-four people braving the 115-degree heat at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas were hospitalized for heat exhaustion. No deaths have been reported, however. Los Angeles is being spared the worst, but it has nevertheless opened 89 cooling centers across L.A. County to help low-income residents who lack air conditioning to cope, according to KTLA5.
In Phoenix, which is no stranger to extreme desert heat, temperatures could break records though the weekend. It was 116F (47C) on Friday, two degrees shy of the record. The Arizona Republic reported that temperatures could rise to 118F (48C) before the sun sets Saturday. Temperatures are expected be over 109F there until Wednesday, and not much lower for the rest of the week.
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The National Weather Service said Saturday that much of the West will be in red-flag warning conditions at least through the weekend. This means high hot winds and arid conditions poses an elevated threat of fires in a region of the country that seems to light up every summer even under normal conditions.
Not everyone is running to cooling shelters, backyard sprinklers or the beach. At the appropriately named Furnace Creek Resort at Death Valley National Park, visitors – some from abroad – are known to flock to the location where the world’s highest temperature was recorded on July 10, 1913.
"It's very warm, and people are coming here to see what it feels like," Ann Wegner, executive administrative assistant for the resort, told the Los Angeles Times in a report published Saturday. "I don’t think anybody can really be prepared. ... Even if the air is blowing, it's hot.”