Searing heat wave grips large parts of the U.S. and causes deaths in the West (2024)

DEATH VALLEY, Calif. — A searing heat wave gripped large parts of the United States on Monday, with record daily high temperatures in Oregon suspected to have caused four deaths in the Portland area following a motorcyclist’s death in dangerous heat over the weekend in Death Valley, California.

More than 146 million people around the U.S. were under heat alerts Monday, especially in the western states. California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Idaho on Monday were under an excessive heat warning, the National Weather Service’s highest alert, while parts of the East Coast as well as Alabama and Mississippi were under heat advisories.

The global temperature in June was record warm for the 13th straight month and marked the 12th straight month that the world was 2.7 degrees warmer than pre-industrial times, the European climate service Copernicus said.

Dozens of locations in the West and Pacific Northwest tied or broke previous heat records over the weekend and are expected to keep doing so into the week.

In Oregon’s Multnomah County, home to Portland, the medical examiner is investigating four suspected heat-related deaths recorded on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, officials said. Three deaths involved people ages 64, 75 and 84, county officials said in an email. Heat also was suspected in the death of a 33-year-old man taken to a Portland hospital.

Portland broke daily record temperatures Friday, Saturday and Sunday and was on track to do so again Monday with a forecast high of 102, National Weather Service meteorologist Hannah Chandler-Cooley said. More hot weather was expected through Tuesday evening.

“We are looking at the potential for breaking more records,” she said.

The temperatures aren’t expected to soar as high as they did during a heat wave in the Pacific Northwest in 2021, which killed an estimated 600 people across Oregon, Washington and western Canada. But the duration could be problematic because many area homes lack air conditioning. Round-the-clock hot weather keeps people from cooling off sufficiently at night, and it’s worse in urban areas where concrete and pavement store heat.

Heat illness and injury are cumulative and can build over the course of a day or days, officials warn. In San Jose, California, a homeless man died last week from apparent heat-related causes, Mayor Matt Mahan said on the social platform X.

In north Las Vegas, Alejandro Meza went home from work early on Monday after he felt like he was “dragging around in chains” while painting a church exterior in triple-digit heat. Touching a metal ladder without gloves was like touching a clothes iron, he said. His heart rate sped up and he got chills — a sign of heat illness.

“Any time it gets really, really hot out, I’m literally cold,” Meza said.

In eastern California’s sizzling desert, a high temperature of 128 was recorded Saturday and Sunday at Death Valley National Park, a visiting motorcyclist died Saturday from heat exposure. Another person was hospitalized, officials said.

More extreme highs were expected, including a a high of around 127 in Death Valley on Monday, and possibly 130 around midweek,

The largest national park outside Alaska, Death Valley is considered one of the most extreme environments in the world and is among the hottest during the summer. The hottest temperature ever officially recorded on Earth was 134 in July 1913 in Death Valley, though some experts dispute that measurement and say the real record was 130, recorded there in July 2021.

Across the desert in Nevada, Las Vegas set a record high of 120 on Sunday and was forecast to hit a record high of 115 Monday. The National Weather Service forecast a high of 117 in Phoenix.

Extreme heat and a longstanding drought in the West have also dried out vegetation that can fuel wildfires

In California, a wildfire in the mountains of Santa Barbara County grew to nearly 32 square miles Monday. More than 1,000 firefighters were on the lines of the Lake Fire, and areas under evacuation orders included the former Neverland Ranch once owned by the late pop star Michael Jackson.

Rare heat advisories were extended even into higher elevations including around Lake Tahoe. The National Weather Service in Reno, Nevada, warned of “major heat risk impacts, even in the mountains.”

“Only so many ways we can say it’s hot out there,” the weather service said in its updated forecast Monday afternoon. “Our long- duration heatwave continues with additional record breaking temperatures a high probability.”

Reno was likely to reach 105 for the third consecutive day later Monday, which would be the first time that has happened in more than 100 years of record-keeping. The weather service also said there’s a good chance that streak will continue through Thursday.

People flocked Monday to the beaches around Lake Tahoe, especially Sand Harbor State Park, where the record high of 92 set on Sunday smashed the old record of 88 set in 2014. For the fifth consecutive day, Sand Harbor closed its gates within 90 minutes of opening at 8 a.m. because it had reached capacity.

“It’s definitely hotter than we are used to,” Nevada State Parks spokesperson Tyler Kerver said.

In nearby Sparks, Nevada, security guard Bill DeRushe complained about the heat Monday as he picked up a sandwich at a sports tavern.

“Oh, my God, it’s torture out there,” said DeRushe, who has to leave his air-conditioned guard shack to open gates for incoming trucks at a commercial loading dock east of Reno. He said it’s so hot, rattlesnakes, rats and lizards seek shade under his shack.

Feeling sorry for the lizards, he filled a small bottle lid with water.

“I watch them do their little pushups when they drink from it,” he said.

Searing heat wave grips large parts of the U.S. and causes deaths in the West (2024)
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