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Heat hub for US is Kansas farm town -- not Death Valley

Image:
Sun monster? Nope, it's just the sun shining on the "Peerless Princess of the Plains" sculpture during its dedication in Wichita, Kan., on Thursday. The city roasted at 106 degrees.Orlin Wagner / AP
/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

Death Valley ain't got nothing on Hill City -- at least not this week. The Kansas farm town was the hottest place in the nation over the past five days and, while a bit cooler Thursday, was still a symbol for the heat wave sitting atop the central U.S. and slowly spreading east.

"We've pretty much restricted our travel and stayed indoors," Kirk Schweitzer, director of the local economic development office, told msnbc.com.

Hill City topped out at 115 degrees on Wednesday -- 8 degrees above its previous record for a June 27.

"To have days on end, plus this early in the year ... that's what worries people," he said. "Is this a foreshadowing of summers in years to come or just an anomaly?"

A Midwest town having the nation's highest temperature for five days in a row is very unusual, Chris Foltz, a National Weather Service meteorologist, told Reuters.

"It's what you expect in the desert of Nevada or California," Foltz said. (Death Valley reached 110 on Wednesday.)

"Hill City is where the high pressure is anchored," Foltz added. "It's like the heat perpetuates itself."

"It feels like you have a big old furnace blowing in your face," said Rayson Brachtenbach, a technician at Elliott Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning and Electric in Hill City, population 1,500.

The heat has kept him busy, Brachtenbach told Reuters. "Five or six days around 115 degrees is really hard on" on compressors, he said.

Any upside to the notoriety? "It does make people go to a map and look for Hill City," said Schweitzer, who's in the business of recruiting new employers to Graham County.

Still, he doesn't expect the area to market it's "hottest in the USA" label.

"No barbecue sauce business has cropped up to promote that," he said.

Kansas on Thursday was one of nine states where "excessive heat warnings" were issued by the National Weather Service. The others were Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

The Weather Channel estimated that nearly 93 million Americans were in areas under "heat advisories" and 21 million in areas with "excessive heat warnings."

Indianapolis on Thursday saw its warmest June day on record when the thermometer reached 103 degrees.

Chicago reached 100 degrees at 3 p.m. local time -- but the heat index made it feel like 111.

In Kansas City, Mo., the heat was suspected of contributing to the deaths of a man and an infant, KSHB-TV reported.

Meteorologists expect little relief over the next couple of weeks.

"This overall pattern looks like it is going to stick around well into July," Alex Sosnowski, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.com, told Reuters.

"It looks pretty much rock solid centered on the Central Plains and Central Rockies over into the Tennessee Valley interior south," Sosnowski said. "It's anchored in there and it's really not going to change much."

Sosnowski said temperatures would spike toward 100 degrees from Chicago to Washington D.C. and possibly New York every now and then, and areas from Colorado to the interior of the Carolinas would have little hope for temporary relief.

Temperatures will push 90 degrees most days in New York, Washington and Philadelphia the next two weeks, while Denver, Kansas City and the middle of the nation will tend to see high temperatures pushing 100 degrees, he said.

The dry conditions and high temperatures have exacerbated wildfires in western states, and have threatened corn crops and stressed livestock in the Central Plains.

In Sidney, Neb., Keith Rexroth is in the middle of harvesting wheat that's ready earlier than normal due to the spring heat.

One of the worst parts about dealing with temperatures above 110, he told the Associated Press, was the feeling of the heat hitting his body as he leaves an air-conditioned environment.

"It'll give you an instant headache," Rexroth said.

Rexroth rotates different duties on his harvest crew to give them breaks from the heat. Rexroth's combine is air-conditioned, but the grain truck is not.

"The short straw is the truck," he said.