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Extreme Heat In The West To Send Temps To Triple Digits, Worsen Drought


The West is broiling. Excessive heat warnings are in effect again today from Phoenix, where today's forecast was 120 degrees, to eastern Montana, where some farming towns braced for highs close to 110. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports there is little relief in sight for the drought-stricken region.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: How hot is it?

SCOTT DOUGLAS: It's like opening an oven when you're baking a pie.

SIEGLER: Captain Scott Douglas is a paramedic with the Phoenix Fire Department. The city has opened 66 cooling refuges and hydration stations at parks, libraries and pools.

DOUGLAS: It's hot. And people say it's a dry heat, and I'm like, well - you know what? - when it gets to 117, 118 degrees, it doesn't matter if it's dry, moist, cool, whatever. It's hot.

SIEGLER: Phoenix broke records last year for hitting 100 degrees or higher for more than 144 days. Last year was also a record wildfire year in much of the West. And every day, there's a headline screaming this summer could be worse. Arizona lawmakers are holding a special session this week to consider a hundred-million-dollar emergency bill for firefighting and prevention. In Nevada, where invasive grasses and drought have fueled record range fires lately, firefighters have been dealing with 100-degree temperatures for the past two weeks.

Paul Petersen is the fire management officer for the Federal Bureau of Land Management there.

PAUL PETERSEN: Typically, we wouldn't have this heat and winds until, you know, mid-July. So I'm hoping it's not an indication of what we're going to see in the future.

SIEGLER: He's hoping that the monsoon rains arrive this summer. They were a no-show last year. Meteorologists are blaming this blistering event on a heat dome, a stubborn high-pressure ridge that's blocking cooler systems.

Nickolai Reimer is with the National Weather Service in Billings, Mont., where the forecast high today, June 15, is 106.

NICKOLAI REIMER: We are very close to the hottest temperatures that we've ever recorded here.

SIEGLER: Reimer says scientists can't pinpoint any one heat wave like this on climate change, but he says the record drought and extremely low humidity right now is making the heat even worse.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF VETIVER'S "STRICTLY RULE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.