Dangerous heat wave to hit California over weekend as wildfires still burn

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Greg Berndt takes a selfie as the thermometer reads 131 degrees Fahrenheit (55 Celsius) at the Furnace Creek Visitors Center in Death Valley, California, U.S. August 17, 2020.

David Becker | Reuters

A dangerous heat wave is expected to hit California over the weekend and trigger one of the hottest days in state history.

Temperatures on Sunday could reach between 110 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of Los Angeles, according to the county’s National Weather Service, as forecasters warn the heat will be “exceptionally dangerous” and potentially deadly. Temperatures could also reach 104 to 117 degrees in cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas. 

“The very hot conditions tomorrow through Labor Day will bring an increased threat of large fire activity including fires with large vertical growth,” the National Weather Service Los Angeles warned.

In the past few weeks, the state has battled more than 875 wildfires that have burned through roughly 1.5 million acres. Tens of thousands of people still can’t return to their homes. Temperatures broke records in mid-August while dozens of wildfires burned, two of which are the second and third-largest fires in California’s history and are still active. 

The state is also expecting overnight temperatures in the mid 70s to low 80s across Los Angeles, marking a dangerous combination of high daytime and high nighttime temperatures that doesn’t give the body a chance to cool down during the night.

People look through items at a home burned from the LNU Lightning Complex fire in Vacaville, California, U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. More than 360 blazes are burning in California, forcing mass evacuations in the northern part of the state and creating an air quality emergency.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“Extreme heat in many parts of California will peak this Sunday. Heat kills,” the World Meteorological Organization warned on Friday. 

In the U.S., heat kills more people than any other weather disaster including floods and hurricanes. Heatwaves and droughts are becoming more frequent and intense because of climate change and have contributed to more extreme fires. Across the world, every decade over the last 60 years has been hotter than the last.

“I am seriously concerned about this heatwave throughout California,” said UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain. “All-time record highs are plausible in Central Valley [and] across parts of SoCal. Over a million acres are actively burning across NorCal, and we’re still in the middle of a pandemic.” 

Excessive heat warnings are in effect across areas in Arizona, Nevada and much of California.

“Be prepared now. Have a plan in place in case the power goes out,” wrote climate scientist Eric Holthaus. “This heat will be potentially deadly regardless of your health.”

A photographer takes a picture of the thermometer reading 132 degrees Fahrenheit (55.5 Celsius) at the Furance Creek Visitors Station in Death Valley National Park, California, August 17, 2020.

David Becker | Reuters

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