Death Valley, Las Vegas smash records as heat wave in West persists

Sweltering conditions were expected to continue through next week

A blistering heat wave lingering over the western U.S. has smashed record temperatures in multiple states, increasing wildfire danger and worsening historic and life-threatening drought

Triple-digit highs were felt in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Nevada as well as in California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an emergency proclamation on Thursday over concerns regarding energy grid capacity. 

CALIFORNIA GOV. NEWSOM DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY AMID EXTREME HEAT

To the south of Sacramento, the National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Prediction Center (WPC) announced that California's Death Valley had reached a scorching 128 degrees Fahrenheit.

The desert valley has long been the record-holder for the highest air temperature ever recorded on Earth – 134 degrees Fahrenheit recorded in 1913, though that figure is reportedly contested  – and just last year the agency reported a temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley, which the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said at the time would be the third-hottest temperature ever recorded if verified after a months-long analysis.

In Nevada, the NWS and forecaster AccuWeather said Friday high temperatures in Las Vegas would peak at a toasty 114 degrees, challenging records.

The NWS said Wednesday that that Sin City had broken a decades-old temperature record with a thermometer at McCarran International Airport recording a high of 116 degrees.

The all-time high for Las Vegas is 117, reached in June 2017.

In a release, the WMO noted that the extreme temperatures were part of a trend due to climate change, with heat waves "more frequent and more intense." 

Gerry Huddleston of Santa Rosa, Calf. cools off in the very shallow water of the Russian River, Wednesday, June 16, 2021 at the Veterans Memorial Beach in Healdsburg, Calif. An unusually early and long-lasting heat wave brought more triple-digit temperatures Wednesday to a large swath of the U.S. West, raising concerns that such extreme weather could become the new normal amid a decades-long drought. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

Gerry Huddleston of Santa Rosa, Calf. cools off in the very shallow water of the Russian River, Wednesday, June 16, 2021 at the Veterans Memorial Beach in Healdsburg, Calif. An unusually early and long-lasting heat wave brought more triple-digit temperatures Wednesday to a large swath of the U.S. West, raising concerns that such extreme weather could become the new normal amid a decades-long drought. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

Climatologists and scientists continue to warn that longer duration and more severe heat waves could be "the new normal," citing dry soil from the region's "megadrought."

"When the soil is wet, heat waves aren’t so bad," the University of California, Los Angeles' Park Williams, a climate and fire scientist, told The Associated Press on Friday. "But if it’s dry, we are under extreme risk."

California's Cal Fire has warned that the state has continued to "experience an increase in wildfires and acres burned" in 2021 "compared to last year." 

In 2020, the state saw more than 4.2 million acres burn – an unprecedented statistic.

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Real relief for millions of residents was not expected through early next week, with temperatures forecast to locally shift from the desert Southwest, California and Great Basin to the interior Pacific Northwest.

However, the NWS WPC noted that a cold front was expected east of the Rockies.

The Associated Press contributed to this report