NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Scorching heat was spreading Friday across much of the South, where temperatures are expected to soar over 100 degrees (37.8 Celsius) and persist into next week.
The National Weather Service posted heat advisories and warnings from the New Mexico-Texas border eastward to parts of Alabama. Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, west Tennessee and parts of Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky were all under heat advisories or warnings Friday. In Texas, the nation’s largest prison system took the unprecedented step of allowing all inmates and staff unlimited access to cold water and opportunities to cool off in air-conditioned spaces.
“This one will be rather long-lasting in the areas it affects,” said David Hamrick, a forecaster at the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
The hot temperatures will combine with high humidity, which could be lethal to some people, forecasters said. They were warning that children, older people, those without air conditioning and outdoor workers will be particularly at risk.
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Highs Friday were expected to be 109 degrees (42.8 Celsius) in the Dallas and Oklahoma City metro areas; 111 degrees (43.9 Celsius) in parts of western Oklahoma; and 100 degrees (37.8 Celsius) in Shreveport, Louisiana.
With highs that hot, temperatures in many places were in the 80s during the pre-dawn hours Friday. In Dallas, for instance, the low temperature early Friday was 85 degrees (29.4 Celsius), Hamrick said.
The heat wave has already broken records in Texas set more than 90 years ago.
“I have records all over the place,” said Bianca Villanueva, a National Weather Service forecaster in north Texas. “It looks like we’ll probably break most of the records that we have through the weekend.”
The high temperature in Texas on Thursday was 112 degrees (44 Celsius) in Wichita Falls, breaking a previous 111-degrees mark set in 1925 and also 1936. Wichita Falls is about 120 miles (193 kilometers) northwest of the Dallas area.
Villanueva says Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport hit 108 degrees (42 Celsius) Thursday, breaking a previous record set in 1925. In central Texas, Waco also reached 108 degrees (42 Celsius) on Thursday, breaking the previous record set in 1951.
The heat wave prompted a federal agency to warn residents who were displaced by Hurricane Harvey and still living in government-provided mobile homes to make sure their air conditioning was working. More than 2,300 families displaced by Harvey were still living in mobile homes and travel trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, spokeswoman Lauren Hersh said Friday.
Harvey made landfall in South Texas last Aug. 25, leading to torrential rain that swamped parts of Houston and the Beaumont-Port Arthur area of south Texas.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jeremy Desel said that for the first time ever Friday, all of the more than 145,000 inmates at Texas prisons — most of which are housed in units without central air conditioning — were offered unlimited access to cold water and cold showers, and opportunities to cool down in air-conditioned spaces including prison chapels and clinics. The policy came after a federal judge ruled last summer in favor of inmates at a southeast Texas unit who complained that the sweltering heat amounted to unconstitutionally cruel punishment.
In New Orleans, the leader of a homeless shelter says people and groups who feed the homeless at encampments that develop along city streets and under bridges and overpasses may be doing more harm than good — at least during the current heat wave.
“During this extreme heat the best thing for the people that go and feed people under the bridge is to not do that. The men and women just sit there and dehydrate,” said David Bottner, the CEO of the New Orleans Mission.
Bottner is asking groups that feed groups of homeless people to please coordinate with the various homeless shelters in the city.
“If you want to bring them something, bring them liquid right now and offer them a hand to get off the street,” he said.
Forecasters are advising residents to stay near air-conditioning as much as possible and exercise in the first part of the day or in an indoor gym. Parking in shaded spots will help keep cars cool, and keeping curtains closed when the sun is shining on windows helps keep heat out of homes, Hamrick said.
“Never leave anybody or pets in cars unattended for any period of time,” he said.
There was also a threat of severe storms, which could spawn tornadoes in parts of the South.
The area at greatest risk of severe storms Friday includes parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, according to the national Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. That region under the highest severe weather threat includes 5.7 million people and includes the cities of Nashville, Tennessee; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Louisville, Kentucky.
Heidgerd reported from Dallas. Martin reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writer Emily Schmall in Fort Worth, Texas, contributed to this report.