Extreme temperatures in the West to shatter records, raise alarm for wildfire conditions


Things are heating up in parts of the country, as a prolonged heat event threatens long-standing records and endangers millions of Americans’ safety.

About 43 million people across the West and the Southwest were under heat alerts Monday, with highs soaring 10 to 30 degrees above average throughout the week.

Multiple cities are expected to shatter their daily record high temperatures with triple digits, including Phoenix and Tuscon in Arizona, and Salt Lake City. Phoenix and Las Vegas are expected to remain above 110 all week, and Death Valley could hit a scorching 127 degrees by late week.

Even areas high in the mountains won’t be able to escape the dangerous heat; Billings, Montana, is forecast to go over 100 and as is Grand Junction, Colorado, which sits at 4,500-feet elevation.

The heat only intensifies through the week, and by Friday more 100 record highs could be set, including daily records, as well as some all-time monthly records for June.

Mid-June is typically the hottest time of the year, climatologically speaking, for parts of southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and west Texas. This makes the potential of breaking all-time monthly high temperatures even more impressive.

With the heat comes intensifying drought and inflamed wildfire conditions. Water levels at key reservoirs like Lake Mead, which are already at their record lows, will continue to drop.

Gusty winds and low humidity are expected to fan the flames on existing large wildfires across California, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, and will heighten the risk for further wildfires through the week.

Fire weather watches and red flag warnings have been issued by the National Weather Service for more than 3 million people. As the heat builds this week, fire alerts could expand especially later in the week.

With 97 percent of the Western region in some category of drought and 55 percent in extreme to exceptional drought, meteorologists are sounding the alarm for another potential severe wildfire season on the horizon.

According to Cal Fire, California is already experiencing a 26 percent increase in wildfire activity and a 58 percent increase in acres burned compared to 2020. Last year ended up being the worst wildfire season for the state with a record-setting 4.4 million acres burned.

Higher temperatures and worsening wildfire seasons can be attributed to climate change. Heat waves are lasting longer and becoming more intense, and wildfire seasons across the West are seeing an increase in acres burned year over year.

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