Heat Wave Sweeps Western U.S. Sparking Fires, Breaking Records

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

A widespread June heatwave is wreaking havoc in the west, threatening blackouts and the outbreak of wildfires. Regions accustomed to heat are expected to break record temperatures, while Colorado has issued its first-ever excessive heat warning. As a result, millions of people are now under heat advisories in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. The wave coincides with a devastating drought currently impacting 50% of the country, and the summer is just getting started.

Why This Matters: Heat is killer, literally. Each year 12,000 Americans die from heat-related complications, millions of acres burn in wildfires, and drought creates drinking water shortages in many communities. Now, the West is facing record-breaking temperatures, record-breaking wildfires, and record-breaking water scarcity all at once. All of these problems interact to create heat domes that trap heat over populated areas for days, prolonging stress on people and power grids. As climate change raises temperatures, experts say that states can expect to see more frequent heat spikes, and in turn, more frequent power failures and more aggressive wildfires.

Fire and Brimstone: California has issued water conservation and heat advisories leading into next week, when temperatures are expected to hit the low 90s, 20 degrees hotter than the average for this month.

  • In Death Valley, experts say there’s a chance the June record of 129 degrees Fahrenheit may be broken.
  • Nevada and Arizona may also see temperatures above 120 degrees, and temperatures in Denver are expected to break records three days in a row.
  • June records in Montana and Utah have already been broken.
  • “Critical” fire weather conditions are forecasted next week in Santa Barbara County and parts of Nevada, Utah, and Montana.

Experts predict that these fires will be extremely severe because local vegetation is growing increasingly dry due to drought conditions. More than 20 wildfires have already been spotted burning in Arizona, California, and more.

Some cities are opening “cooling zones” for residents to escape the heat and advise people to stay indoors, drink lots of water, and keep out of the sun. But many states are also preparing for skyrocketing power usage as residents crank up their AC–even states accustomed to high temperatures feel the heat.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) says that a series of unplanned outages at Texas power plants will create complications as the heatwave moves in and is urging Texans to conserve power. The outages, which come just months after a statewide blackout that left 14 million without power and 40 people dead, have yet to be explained. The outages account for 12,000 megawatts, enough to power 2.4 million homes. The heat index in this writer’s hometown of Dallas is expected to hit 110 degrees this week, with raw temperatures in the mid-high 90s for most of the week.

If you’re living under a heat advisory this week, follow these tips to beat the heat, protect your loved ones, and conserve energy while doing so.

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