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Southwest braces for scorching heat

| Saturday, June 18, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Glendale Fire Department firefighter Chris Greene adds to a stockpile of bottled water the in preparation for record-setting heat expected over the weekend and into next week in Glendale, Ariz.
Glendale Fire Department firefighter Chris Greene adds to a stockpile of bottled water the in preparation for record-setting heat expected over the weekend and into next week in Glendale, Ariz.

PHOENIX — In 120 degree temperatures, some airplanes might not take off. Power grids strain as the outside air keeps transmission lines from cooling. And for desert dwellers, a cold bottle of water and some shade can mean the difference between life and death.

Parts of the Southwest, long accustomed to triple-digit temperatures, are preparing for a heat wave and, in Phoenix, officials are warning residents that the mercury may rise to 120, approaching Phoenix's all-time record of 122.

“If we are going to 115 or 120, people need to realize they are really in a life-threatening situation if they don't wet themselves down and drink water,” said Kevin Kalkbrenner, Phoenix's director of homeland security and emergency management.

Excessive heat contributed to 84 deaths in the state last year, officials said in Maricopa County, the state's largest. Officials already confirmed this year's first heat-related death — an elderly woman who expired from heat exposure in her backyard in early June.

Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, is warning residents to watch for signs of heat illness: thirst, red skin, cramping, exhaustion and a lack of sweat. The agency is telling local officials to prepare for an influx of heat-related illnesses.

The Phoenix parks department is posting extra rangers at hiking trails warning visitors of the dangers and asking them to be off the trails by noon.

Arizona's power companies are prepping extra maintenance crews and securing extra power to keep the cool air blowing, said Jacob Tetlow, general manager of operations with Arizona Public Service Co.

Airlines will be monitoring temperatures as excessive heat can throw off performance calculations preventing planes from taking off, said Polly Tracey, spokeswoman for American Airlines.

Tracey said they may have to delay flights until the heat lets up, but officials will have to wait and see before making any decisions.

Arizona's hottest day on record was in 1990 when temperatures hit 122 degrees, said Nancy Selover, state climatologist. Airlines grounded all the flights out of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, she said.

Selover said the heat impacts everything from the expansion of the metal tracks along the Valley Metro Rail — though they're designed to handle it — to cotton crops thirsting for more water, to increasing evaporation on the state's lakes and reservoirs.

But the quick jump from moderate to scorching temperatures may have the biggest impact on people, she said.

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