DEATH VALLEY, Calif. — Scorching heat blistered the Southwest on Saturday, where highs between 115 and 120 degrees were expected for parts of Arizona, Nevada and California through the weekend.
Forecasters said temperatures in sunbaked Las Vegas could match the record of 117 degrees Saturday. Phoenix hit 119 degrees by mid-afternoon, breaking the record for June 29 that was set in 1994. And large swaths of California sweltered under extreme heat warnings, which are expected to last into Tuesday night — and maybe even longer.
Dan Kail was vacationing in Las Vegas when he heard that the temperature at California’s Death Valley could approach 130 degrees this weekend. He didn’t hesitate to make a trip to the desert location that is typically the hottest place on the planet.
“Coming to Death Valley in the summertime has always been on the top of my bucket list,” the 67-year-old Pittsburgh man said. “When I found out it might set a record I rented a car and drove straight over. If it goes above 130 I will have something to brag about.”
The forecast called for Death Valley to reach 128 degrees Saturday as part of a heat wave that has caused large parts of the western U.S. to suffer. Death Valley’s record high of 134 degrees, set a century ago, stands as the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth.
A couple hours south in Baker, the temperature was expected to peak at 120 degrees in the road tripper’s oasis in the Mojave Desert on Interstate 15. The strip of gas stations and restaurants between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is known by travelers for the giant thermometer that often notes temperatures in the triple digits.
At the Mad Greek restaurant there, a waitress called out orders for “Chocolate shake! Strawberry shake!” while the temperature hovered at 112 degrees during the lunch rush.
Downtown Los Angeles was expected to hit 91 degrees, 7 degrees shy of its record.
To make matters worse in California, National Weather Service meteorologists John Dumas said cooling ocean breezes haven’t been traveling far enough inland overnight to fan Southern California’s overheated valleys and deserts.
Burbank set a record overnight low with temperatures dipping to 74 degrees overnight, much warmer than the previous record of 68 degrees for Saturday’s early hours.
In Northern California, temperatures Saturday were expected to reach the 80s in San Francisco, upper 90s in San Jose and into the triple digits inland, about 20 degrees above typical highs in the Bay area.
Farther north, triple-digit temps were expected in Sacramento on Saturday and Sunday.
Health officials warned people to be extremely careful when venturing outdoors. The risks include not only dehydration and heat stroke but burns from the concrete and asphalt. Dogs can suffer burns and blisters on their paws by walking on hot pavement.
Cooling stations were set up to shelter the homeless and elderly people who can’t afford to run their air conditioners. In Phoenix, Joe Arpaio, the famously hard-nosed sheriff who runs a tent jail, planned to distribute ice cream and cold towels to inmates this weekend.
Officials said personnel were added to the Border Patrol’s search-and-rescue unit because of the danger to people trying to slip across the Mexican border. At least seven people have been found dead in the last week in Arizona after falling victim to the brutal desert heat.
Temperatures are also expected to soar across Utah and into Wyoming and Idaho, with triple-digit heat forecast for the Boise area. Cities in Washington state that are better known for cool, rainy weather should break the 90s next week.
The heat was so punishing that rangers took up positions at trailheads at Lake Mead in Nevada to persuade people not to hike. Zookeepers in Phoenix hosed down the elephants and fed tigers frozen fish snacks. Dogs were at risk of burning their paws on scorched pavement, and airlines kept close watch on the heat for fear that it could cause flights to be delayed.