Power grids in California were being pushed to the limit as a record-breaking heatwave continued, and residents cranked up the air conditioning to cope.
Energy providers issued a Flex Alert for 6-9pm on Friday, ‘to reduce stress on the power grid due to extreme heat.’
During those hours, people are urged to set their thermostats to 78 degrees or higher and avoid using washers, dishwashers and other major appliances.
The alert was already in place for 5-10pm on Thursday, when Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, issued an emergency proclamation to deal with the heat.
He loosened the rules around the use of generators so businesses could stay open, and ordered the freeing up of additional energy capacity to help the state’s energy grid.
Newsom’s declaration came after temperatures in Death Valley hit 129F – the highest this year.
Death Valley has long held the record for the highest air temperature ever recorded on Earth, with a 1913 recording of 134F – although the accuracy of the reading is debated.
Last year Death Valley was confirmed to have hit 130F.
John Gillette takes a photo of Sarah Null as she stands in a swimsuit next to a thermometer displaying temperatures of 129 degrees Fahrenheit at the Furnace Creek visitor’s center at Death Valley National Park. The hottest temperature ever recorded there was 134F, in 1913 – although the accuracy of that reading is debated. Last year it reached 130F
Across the West, records were being broken – with California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Arizona all feeling extreme temperatures.
In Nevada, the National Weather Service said on Friday that high temperatures in Las Vegas would peak at 114 degrees.
The all-time high for Las Vegas is 117, reached in June 2017.
On Thursday, the all-time high temperature was tied in Palm Springs, California at 123 degrees, breaking the previous June record of 122 degrees.
Salt Lake City tied its all-time record high of 107 degrees.
The old record was notably set in July — when temperatures are usually at their highest for the year in that region.
Denver hit 100 degrees on Thursday, marking only the sixth time in historical record keeping that it has reached 100 degrees on three or more consecutive days.
The beginning of the week was even more intense: from Sunday to Tuesday alone, 159 maximum daily high temperature records were broken, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The high temperatures were coming early, too.
On Thursday, the National Weather Service in Tucson said that it was 100 degrees at 8.14am – the second earliest time in the day recorded since 1948.
The earliest ever time for hitting 100 degrees was 8:02am, in June 2017.
The all-time high temperature recorded in Phoenix of 122 degrees occurred on June 26, 1990.
Heat warnings have been in place all week, with residents urged to seek shade, drink water, and avoid excessive activity in the middle of the day.
‘It feels somewhat apocalyptic with the record high heat, the smoke from wildfires tearing through the Sonoran desert and the news on the drought,’ said Emily Kirkland, a communications organizer for a Phoenix nonprofit group.
‘Just the 10-minute walk from my house to the light rail made me queasy.’
The National Weather Service has issued excessive heat warnings for five states – California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and parts of Colorado – warning that temperatures soaring well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) can be dangerous.
‘Very hot conditions will continue for interior areas through Saturday, followed by gradual cooling into next week. Until then, USE CAUTION as heat can be deadly! Most importantly, stay hydrated and never leave kids or pets in a hot car!!’ the National Weather Service station for Los Angeles said on Twitter.
‘It’s miserable, you literally just don’t leave your house unless you have to,’ said Hannah Knight, 20, a waitress at The Coronado coffee shop in Phoenix.
The diner has an outdoor dining area but ‘when it reaches over 110 (degrees Fahrenheit), there’s no way to make it comfortable,’ she said.
A high-pressure ridge, or dome, over the Southwest has been blamed for the heat wave.
‘Every year it’s hot in the Southwest,’ said Bob Oravec, National Weather Service meteorologist, from the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
‘It just seems to be more newsworthy when you have temperatures of 115 or so day after day. It’s pretty hot.’
Children in California fool around on Alameda Beach, in a bid to keep cool as the temperatures across the state soared
Power systems in Texas and California have so far withstood the strain but operators said that if residents did not conserve energy in the late afternoon, rolling blackouts could be required to keep the system running.
In Texas, where temperatures have moderated, demand hit a record on Monday, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
California’s power demand peaked on Thursday at 41,364 megawatts and was expected to surpass that level on Friday, according to the California Independent System Operator, which operates the grid in most of the state. One megawatt can power about 200 homes on a hot day.
The heat wave extended to the Midwest, prompting weather services to issue advisories for Kansas, Missouri and Illinois, before a strong cold front brings relief by the end of the weekend.
Temperatures in St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, were forecast to top 100 degrees on Friday.
Relief, relatively speaking, is also forecast to come to the Southwest at the beginning of next week, Oravec said.