Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
A blistering, potentially historic and record-breaking heat wave is beginning today in the West, and is forecast to last at least through the weekend.
Excessive heat warnings and watches have been issued today by the National Weather Service for most of Arizona, Nevada, California and parts of Utah. They are in effect through Monday.
"An excessive heat warning is issued when temperatures are forecast to reach dangerous levels that will stress the body if precautions are not taken," the weather service warns.
"Heat stroke symptoms include an increase in body temperature, which leads to deliriousness, unconsciousness and red, dry skin," according to a weather service online report. "Death can occur when body temperatures reach or exceed 106-107 degrees."
Infants and children, the elderly, as well as those with chronic medical conditions such as chronic kidney disease, asthma, hypertension and diabetes are at increased risk for heat-related illness, according to Robert Glatter, emergency room physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. He says to prevent the adverse effects of heat-related illness, stay in a cool air-conditioned environment with access to plenty of cool fluids, mainly water.
The cause of the heat wave is a "massive and unusually strong high-pressure system" over the region, the weather service reports.
"Daytime temperatures will soar well into triple digits, and overnight lows will struggle to drop into the 70s and 80s," notes weather service meteorologist Mary Beth Gerhardt in a Weather Prediction Center report.
Notoriously hot Death Valley in California is forecast to reach 129 degrees, not far off the world-record high of 134 logged there exactly one century ago.
In some cities, record highs for any date throughout the year could be equaled or breached, says AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. Cities that could set all-time high temperature marks include Flagstaff, Ariz., Las Vegas and Reno, he adds.
An all-time record of 117 degrees could be broken Saturday in Las Vegas.
In Las Vegas Thursday afternoon, two Elvis impersonators and a performer costumed as the iconic "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign said they still planned to keep up their routine of working the tourist corridor in the broad daylight and turning in for the evenings, heat notwithstanding.
"We'd much rather fight with the sun than fight with the drunk people," Elvis impersonator Cristian Morales said.
Utah isn't immune from the heat,either: Temperatures are expected to reach as high as 115 degrees in St. George, Utah, through the weekend.
"It's hard for us to say everyone should stay indoors when it's really hot," says David Heaton, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department public information officer. "There are always going to be folks going out during the day in hiking conditions. If you're going to go out, use caution, stay hydrated and watch for signs of heat exhaustion."
Little relief is in sight across the baked region: "A few isolated thunderstorms containing minimal precipitation will be possible along the higher elevations of the Rockies and Great Basin," according to Gerhardt. "Instead of providing relief from the heat this weekend, these dry storms will only enhance the fire weather threat across a very hot and dry region."
The National Weather Service is calling for temperatures to approach 120 degrees in Phoenix over the weekend. Phoenix has only been in the 120s three other times in history, according to Weather Channel meteorologist Chris Dolce.
Improbable as it might seem, the heat reminds Phoenix resident Anders Berg of his home in Sweden, where temperatures aren't likely to be much above 65 degrees this weekend. "It's like if it's a snowstorm in Sweden," he said. "You stay inside; you don't go out." The heat, like the bitter cold, isn't something to acclimate to, he said, but rather something to avoid.
While the West bakes this weekend, most of the East will see a humid, showery weekend, with heavy thunderstorms and an increased threat for flooding, AccuWeather forecasts.