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U.S. faces a wild weekend of weather, including extreme heat and severe storms

As the ongoing heat dome expands, high heat and humidity are expected to blanket parts of the South. Severe storms are also forecast across a huge swath of the country.
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Forecasts show a weekend of wild weather ahead for much of the United States, as dangerous heat waves take hold in the West and the South, severe storms charge across the central Plains and poor air quality continues to plague states in the Midwest, the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic region.

In an update Friday, the National Weather Service said heat is building along the West Coast and is expected to bring hot and dry conditions to much of California this weekend. Parts of central and Northern California could approach 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) on Saturday, and the Southwest could see temperatures soar well above that mark, it said.

In addition to increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses and deaths, the hot and dry conditions in the West raise concerns about the outbreak of wildfires.

Across the central Plains and into the South, which have been baked by high temperatures for days, the heat is expected to persist.

“The hottest temperatures into the triple-digits are forecast to reach the northern-most locations in Missouri today while more oppressive humidity will continue farther south closer to the Gulf Coast,” the weather service said Friday.

Texas, which has been sweltering under an intense, early-season heat wave for the past three weeks, is expected to cool slightly from triple-digit temperatures. The scorching conditions have been blamed for at least 13 deaths in the state, health officials said.

The deadly heat wave was fueled by a dome of high pressure that stagnated over Texas and Mexico, causing heat and humidity to spike during the day with little relief overnight. The Mexican Health Ministry said Thursday that at least 100 people died over the past two weeks because of this extreme heat event, Reuters reported.

Studies have shown that climate change is increasing the frequency, severity and duration of heat waves.

As the ongoing heat dome expands deeper into the South, high heat and humidity are expected to blanket parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama through the weekend.

In Memphis, officials are still grappling with the aftermath of last weekend’s storms that knocked out power to more than 120,000 residents in the county.

Charles Newell, deputy administrator of the Shelby County Emergency Management & Homeland Security Agency, said around 8,000 people are still without power, adding that his department’s top priority is making sure that residents are able to stay cool during the heat wave.

The city’s heat index values, which represent what conditions feel like to the human body when humidity and air temperatures are combined, are expected to be in the triple digits over the next several days.

“We’re encouraging everyone that does not have power or does not have air conditioning to please go to cooling centers,” Newell said. “We have a number of strategically located cooling centers, we’re doing water distribution and we’re asking people to stay out of the sun as best they can.”

Severe storms are forecast across a huge swath of the country Friday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center said occasional hail and damaging winds could develop across the central Plains, and stretching from the middle Mississippi Valley into the Tennessee Valley.

Storms have already snarled air travel this week, as Americans head into the July Fourth holiday. Thousands of flights have been disrupted or canceled since Wednesday, adding strain to what is anticipated to be a busy travel weekend.

Wildfire smoke obscures the view of the skyline, in Chicago
Wildfire smoke obscures the view of the skyline in Chicago, on Thursday.Scott Olson / Getty Images

Meanwhile, parts of the country are still grappling with poor air quality, as smoke from wildfires in Canada continues to drift over states in the Midwest, the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic region.

Officials at the weather service said, however, that the air quality is expected to slowly improve “due to a combination of thunderstorm activity and dispersion of the smoke as we head into the weekend.”