Video: Historic heat wave enters second month

  1. Transcript of: Historic heat wave enters second month

    ANN CURRY, co-host: Now to the brutal heat wave covering the entire southern portion of the United States . Even more records were shattered on Thursday, and it will be another scorcher today. NBC 's Janet Shamlian is in Houston , Texas , this morning. Janet , good morning.

    JANET SHAMLIAN reporting: Ann , good morning to you. The demand on the power grid in Texas is so great there is fear of widespread outages later today at a time when fans and air conditioners aren't just necessities -- they are necessities, they're not just creature comforts. And right now people are hoping that it cools off, but it doesn't look like it for much of the South .

    Mayor A.C. WHARTON Jr. (Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee): Do not take these temperatures lightly. There is nothing -- there's nothing trivial about this at all.

    SHAMLIAN: In Memphis , where the heat is being blamed for the deaths of a police officer and public works employee, city leaders are pleading with residents to look after their neighbors.

    Mayor WHARTON: Please just check on somebody.

    SHAMLIAN: A gardener in Santa Fe , Texas , did just that and saved an elderly man when he spotted him on the floor passed out from 100-degree temperatures inside this mobile home. Carla Allen is one of thousands left without power in Benton , Arkansas , after a malfunction at the area's utility plant. With no air conditioning to keep cool , she worries for her pets.

    Ms. CARLA ALLEN: And they can't stand the heat, too. So I don't know what we're going to do.

    SHAMLIAN: Nightfall provided little relief for firefighters rescuing a communications tower worker who fainted from heat exhaustion in Dallas this week.

    Lieutenant JEREMIAH LOZIER (Burleson Fire Department): The heat is tremendous right now, even at night. The guys had to climb up 700 feet to get to the patient.

    SHAMLIAN: It's so hot this lake in Central Texas has turned blood red, the result of bacteria that thrive in water starved of oxygen. The lack of rainfall is also contributing to the spiking temperatures.

    BRYAN NORCROSS reporting: This heat wave is actually hotter that it would have been if we hadn't had a drought under way.

    SHAMLIAN: Water restrictions in northern Texas mean residents aren't allowed to tend to their yards.

    Ms. HEATHER OLENJACK (Homeowner): We've invested all this money in the trees and there's nothing we can do to water them to keep them alive so we're going to probably going have to replace several of them.

    SHAMLIAN: The soaring temperatures are also taking a financial toll on those who make their living in the heat of summer. In Phoenix , wranglers who offer horseback rides to tourists have to restrict their hours, not only for the safety of the riders but for their horses as well.

    Mr. CHRIS BROWN (Wrangler): What are you going to do? You can't endanger the stock, you can't endanger the guests. What are we going to do?

    SHAMLIAN: With temperatures below 100 degrees nowhere to be seen and the school year fast approaching, these students at a supply fair in Dallas learn plenty of lessons on how to stay cool.

    Ms. VICKI WAIT (Event Organizer): We gave out a lot of water today.

    SHAMLIAN: And in the South , three high school football players and a coach have died just within the last week. And now some are calling for an end to those two-a-day practices, which are sending young people out in to the heat of the day suited up in heavy pads and helmets. Ann , back to you.

    LAUER: All right, Janet Shamlian this morning, thank you. So just how much longer will this extreme heat last? Al Roker is upstairs with more on this. Hey, Al , good morning.

    AL ROKER reporting: Well, good morning, Ann. And first off, we want to tell you Tropical Storm Emily no longer just a surface trough. A lot of rain over Haiti , Santa Domingo and parts of the Dominican Republic . Now to the heat. And you can see right now these are cities that have had 100-degree days. Forty-one of them in Dallas , 45 in Midland . Shreveport 33, Tulsa 32 of them. And the heat advisories and warnings extend well across the southern part of the country. It'll be 107 in San Angelo , 107 in Shreveport . Add the humidity, it's going feel like it's 113 in Tulsa , 112 in Laredo . Big areas of high pressure still dominating here in the South . Much of the South under this warm, moist air. But as we get into the early part of the week, that area shrinks. We get cooler air along the Plains . And so, again, our friends in Texas , Oklahoma and parts of Arkansas , no relief for them going into next week. But a good part of the Southeast does get a break. Ann :

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/5/2011 7:55:54 AM ET 2011-08-05T11:55:54

The National Weather Service chief calls it a heat wave more intense than any he can remember β€” and nowhere is it being felt as intensely as in Texas, where high electricity use triggered power outages Thursday and Dallas saw its 34th straight day of triple-digit temperatures.

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Thursday afternoon, the power-grid operator in Texas declared an Energy Emergency Alert Level 2, where companies that agree to see temporary power cuts get paid to be dropped.

It also warned that Level 3 β€” rolling blackouts across the state β€” might be required later Thursday unless residents and businesses do more to voluntarily reduce electricity use.

Dallas is also well on its way to breaking its record of 42 straight days at 100 or above, set in 1980. The Weather Channel's forecast through Aug. 13, which would be day 43, shows no day with a high below 102 degrees.

So how rough is this heat wave compared to ones in recent summers?

"I can't remember any year with the magnitude and length of this heat wave," Jack Hayes, director of the National Weather Service, told msnbc.com on Thursday.

And it's not just Dallas, or even Texas, for that matter. On Thursday, 14 states from Texas to Virginia were under heat alerts. Several dozen deaths have been tied to the heat since early July.

Though it is hot across much of the South, the "bull's-eye" of the heat is being felt in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana, said National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Jurecka.

Little Rock, Ark., which hit an all-time record high of 114 degrees on Wednesday, faces another stifling 108-degree high on Thursday, Jurecka said.

Additional cooling shelters have opened to help the nearly 4,000 people without power after a breaker malfunction caused by a fire at an Entergy substation in Benton, Ark., about 20 miles southwest of Little Rock.

There is little relief expected from the heat wave across the region, even after the sun goes down, Jurecka said.

"One thing that really causes this to stand out is the nighttime lows are much higher in this outbreak," he said, comparing the current hot spell to a similar one in 1980.

"It doesn't cool down. That puts additional overnight strain on everything."

Story: Forecast heat waves 40 days out? There's a tool for that

On Tuesday and Wednesday, all-time heat records were set at 15 cities and towns, mostly in the South and central U.S., National Weather Service statistics show. That's preliminary data based on just half of the weather stations across the U.S., so the number's likely to be higher when all stations are counted.

In July, 49 all-time records were set and 29 were tied, according to preliminary data. That's well above the average over the previous decade.

Four times as many records did fall in 2002, but that year includes all weather stations and most records were broken in relatively cooler and less populated areas of the Northwest and Southwest.

Most of the records broken last month were in the Northeast, which has since seen cooler temperatures, and the South, which continues to bake.

Football practice in heat: How much should a mom worry?

Even before the heat wave, drought has withered much of Texas and Oklahoma.

Texas state climatologist John Nielson-Gammon said the current drought is now the worst since Texas started keeping records on rainfall in 1895.

"Never before has so little rain been recorded prior to and during the primary growing season for crops, plants, and warm-season grasses," he said on Thursday.

July was the single warmest month ever in Texas, with an average 24-hour temperature of 87.2 degrees, beating the previous warmest month by two full degrees, he said.

"Unfortunately, we're in a vicious cycle of dry weather leading to hot temperatures and a lack of thunderstorms," he said.

The drought worsened this week in neighboring Oklahoma where "exceptional drought" covered 64.3 percent of the state, up from 52.2 percent a week earlier.

Wildfires were reported in Oklahoma while the U.S. Agriculture Department this week rated the state's emerging cotton crop at 88 percent poor to very poor.

Parts of Texas received rain showers of up to 5 inches in recent days, providing some relief in what has been called the most severe one-year drought ever in the Lone Star State.

Story: Forecasters: Drought may persist for another year

Cattle ranchers in the region have sold the animals to feedlots because there is no pasture in which to graze, while some farmers have abandoned corn acreage due to the dry weather.

"This historic drought has depleted water resources, leaving our state's farmers and ranchers in a state of dire need," said Texas agriculture commissioner Todd Staples. "The damage to our economy is already measured in billions of dollars and continues to mount."

As for coming months, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center on Thursday said the La Nina weather conditions that contributed to the drought affecting most of Texas may re-occur later this year and prolong the misery for the state's farmers and ranchers.

The last La Nina ended about two months ago. The weather pattern is marked by a cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean and it typically results in less rain for southern states.

La Ninas contributed to the worst drought in Texas history, in the 1950s. Nearly three-quarters of the state is currently in what the U.S. Drought Monitor classifies as the worst stage of drought.

The Climate Prediction Center is calling for neutral conditions through fall but "neutral or La Nina equally likely thereafter."

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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