Heat wave incinerates records in the U.S.
The suffocating heat wave sweeping the southern U.S. that has led to at least four deaths and left farmers’ fields bone dry shows no signs of abating as temperatures continue to reach record highs and electricity demand threatens to cripple the power grid.
The National Weather Service issued yet more excessive heat warnings Thursday for most of the southern plains, where the temperature in parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas reached as high as 43C, without the humidex.
Southern parts of California and Arizona in the west and Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas in the east also fell under heat advisories, while municipalities and counties scrambled to open cooling centres and make house calls on vulnerable residents.
Dallas marked its 34th straight day of temperatures over 38C, while on Wednesday, Fort Smith, Ark., saw the temperature reach 46C without the humidex, breaking a record of 42C set back in 1896.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, Florida residents are bracing for the possible arrival of tropical storm Emily, which is expected to pass within 160 kilometres of the state’s easternmost point on Saturday.
The blistering heat is being blamed for the deaths of a 16-year-old Florida high school football player and a coach, who both died after collapsing on the field during practices this week.
A spokeswoman for Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton, Jr. told the Star two municipal employees — a sanitation worker and a police officer — died Thursday from heat-related causes.
“When you’re a city police officer or a firefighter or a sanitation worker, there’s no such thing as ‘it’s too hot’ or ‘we’re not answering calls today,’ ” Wharton said in a statement. “We want the family and friends of these two workers to know that our prayers are with them.”
In Oklahoma City, where students are already back to school in a new initiative designed to curtail the “summer brain drain,” the heat wave has forced administrators to juggle pupils between air-conditioned classrooms and bring in contractors to install cooling units in classrooms.
“It’s a moving target,” Tierney Cook-Tinnin, a spokeswoman for Oklahoma Public Schools told the Star Thursday. “The main problem is that buildings don’t have time to cool at night because it’s still close to (38C) when the sun goes down. So our (air conditioning) units are running around the clock and as a result periodically have problems.”
Outdoor recess has been suspended at all schools, she said, while school buses have also been equipped with coolers filled with bottled water to help students and drivers fend off heatstroke.
In Texas, the state’s electricity transmission grid operator issued its fourth consecutive appeal to consumers to limit power use in the evening as the agency went into a state of emergency when reserves fell below 2,300 megawatts Thursday afternoon. But with nighttime temperatures dipping only to around 30C, it’s doubtful residents will be encouraged to turn off their air conditioners.
The cause of the intense heat — which is expected to continue for at least two more weeks — can be attributed to the La Nina ocean-atmosphere phenomenon, said National Weather Service meteorologist Victor Murphy.
The phenomenon occurs when sea surface temperatures along the equator in the central Pacific Ocean are three to five degrees Celsius lower than normal. These cooler temperatures alter the atmospheric flow pattern of air travelling from the northwest to the southeast across the southern plains, resulting in drier winter and spring seasons.
The period from Oct. 1 to end of July was the driest 10-month stretch on record in Texas, said Murphy. As result, when the summer heat descended on the region two months ago, there was little moisture left in the soil to evaporate, mitigate temperatures and create rainfall.
“It’s like a feedback mechanism,” Murphy told the Star. “Without moisture in the soil ready to evaporate, heat just radiates back into the atmosphere. That’s why we’re so dry and just baking away. There’s no rain.”
--Kenyon Wallace, Staff Reporter