Much of the southwestern United States was on alert Thursday for a potentially deadly heatwave that could reach temperatures as high as 47 degrees Celsius (117 Fahrenheit) in the coming days.
Millions of people in California, Nevada and Arizona have been warned to expect dangerous conditions for at least part of the weekend, with the National Weather Service advising residents to stay out of the sun.
While the region typically warms up at this time of year, meteorologists warned it would be significantly hotter than average.
California’s inland and desert areas will be particularly hot on Friday and Saturday, with the tourist town of Palm Springs expected to hit 45 degrees, while nearby Ocotillo Wells could hit 47 degrees.
“We’ve had a few heatwaves this year, but not as intense as this one or as long,” said San Diego Meteorological Service weather forecaster Alex Tardy.
Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can be extremely dangerous for humans.
The World Health Organization says excessive heat stresses the body and increases the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
“Heat waves can acutely affect large populations for short periods, often triggering public health emergencies and leading to excessive mortality and cascading socioeconomic impacts,” says the WHO on its website.
Heat waves and temperature fluctuations are a natural part of climate, but scientists say human-caused global warming is creating a greater number of extreme events, with sometimes devastating consequences.
In June of last year, a “warmth dome” was over the western United States and Canada.
Extreme temperatures and the region’s worst drought in a millennium have sparked numerous fires.
In the village of Lytton, northeast of Vancouver, temperatures reached 49.6 degrees in the days before a devastating fire.
California, along with much of the American West, is on high alert for wildfires.
Years of below-average rainfall have left vast tracts of land bone dry, and nearly the entire state is suffering from severe drought or worse.
A total of nearly 2.8 million acres were burned in California alone in 2020 and 2021, and forecasters are warning another grim year could lie ahead.
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