PHOENIX — A heat wave expected to send the temperature soaring to nearly 120 degrees in Phoenix and Las Vegas over the weekend settled across the West on Friday, threatening to ground airliners and raising fears that pets will get burned on the scalding pavement.
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. And tourists in California’s Death Valley took photos of the landscape and a thermometer that read 121.
The temperature there was expected to reach nearly 130 through the weekend, just short of the 134-degree reading from a century ago that stands as the highest temperature recorded on Earth.
“You have to take a picture of something like this. Otherwise no one will believe you,” said Laura McAlpine, visiting Death Valley from Scotland on Friday.
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The heat is not expected to break until Monday or Tuesday.
The weather presented problems for airlines because high temperatures can make it more difficult for planes to take off. Hot air reduces lift and can diminish engine performance. Planes taking off in the heat may need longer runways or may have to shed weight by carrying less fuel or cargo.
Smaller jets and propeller planes are more likely to be affected than bigger airliners that are better equipped for extreme temperatures.
However, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport officials reported no such heat-related problems with any flights by Friday evening.
The National Weather Service said Phoenix reached 116 Friday, two degrees short of the expected high, in part because of a light layer of smoke from wildfires in neighboring New Mexico that shielded the sun. Las Vegas was expecting near record highs approaching 116 degrees over the weekend while Phoenix was forecast to hit nearly 120. The record in Phoenix is 122.
Temperatures are also expected to soar across Utah and into Wyoming and Idaho, with triple-digit heat forecast for the Boise area.
“This is the hottest time of the year, but the temperatures that we’ll be looking at for Friday through Sunday, they’ll be toward the top,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Mark O’Malley. “It’s going to be baking hot across much of the entire West.”
The heat is the result of a high-pressure system brought on by a shift in the jet stream, the high-altitude air current that dictates weather patterns. The jet stream has been more erratic in the past few years.
Health officials warned people to be extremely careful when venturing outdoors. The risks include dehydration, heat stroke and burns from concrete and asphalt.
Infants and children, the elderly, and those with chronic medical conditions such as chronic kidney disease, asthma, hypertension and diabetes, are at increased risk for heat-related illness.
Dogs and cats can also can suffer burns and blisters on their paws by walking on scorching pavement. “You will see people who go out walking with their dog at noon or in the middle of the day and don’t bring enough water, and it gets tragic pretty quickly,” said Bretta Nelson, spokeswoman for the Arizona Humane Society.
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 search-and-rescue unit because of the danger to people trying to slip across the Mexico border. At least seven people have been found dead in the past week in Arizona after falling victim to the desert heat.
In June 1990, when Phoenix hit 122 degrees, airlines were forced to cease flights for several hours because of a lack of data from the manufacturers on how the aircraft would operate in such extreme heat.
US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher said the airline now knows that its Boeings can fly at up to 126 degrees, and its Airbus fleet can operate at up to 127.
While the heat in Las Vegas is expected to peak Sunday, it’s unlikely to sideline the first round of the four-week Bikini Invitational tournament.
“I feel sorry for those poor girls having to strut themselves in 115 degrees, but there’s $100,000 up for grabs,” said Hard Rock casino spokeswoman Abigail Miller. “I think the girls are willing to make the sacrifice.”