Southwest Heat Wave Kills Four, Grounds Flights, Causes Wildfires: Rare 120 Degree Heat Is Hottest Yet

The first day of summer coincided with a rare, 120-degree heat wave in the Southwestern United States that has already killed four people, grounded airline flights, and hampered firefighting efforts.

The rising temperatures caused excessive heat warnings to be issued in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson as officials warned residents to take cover from the sun.

A strengthening high pressure ridge out of Mexico is responsible for the heat wave that is expected to continue through most of the week, University of Arizona climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck told ABC News.

“We should anticipate more and more of this extreme heat, and we’re getting to feel it firsthand. It is what global warming looks and feels like.”

Monday was expected to be the hottest day of the heat wave with temperatures expected to top 120 degrees and indeed records were shattered in four states.

In Arizona it was hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk.

Four Arizona residents have already died from exposure to the high temperatures: two hikers in Pima County, a trainer biking the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, and a hiker in the Superstition Mountains. A fifth person, a hiker, was reported missing over the weekend and still hasn’t been found.

The extreme heat has also hampered firefighters battling blazes in New Mexico, Arizona, and California. The wildfires have already scorched tens of thousands of acres and forced evacuations.

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A new fire, dubbed the Reservoir Fire, sparked into life outside Los Angeles and quickly grew to 500 acres as the blaze sent an enormous plume of smoke into the sky. Parts of San Diego County were under evacuation orders as firefighters struggled to contain a blaze near the Mexico border.

The Dog Head fire that’s already burned 18,000 acres southeast of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is 9 percent contained, while the 7,890 acre Sherpa fire threatening Santa Barbara is 51 percent contained.

Airline flights are also being affected, as FAA regulations prohibit planes from taking off or landing in temperatures higher than 120 degrees. The first plane affected was a United Airlines flight out of Houston that was unable to land in Phoenix because of the excessive heat; it was forced to turn around and return to Texas.

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Officials continue to warn the public of the dangers of excessive heat; if you have to be outside for extended periods be sure and take a break inside air-conditioned areas. Also, wear a wide brimmed hat, sunscreen, and light clothing. Remember not to leave your pets or children in the car.

In California, lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it OK to smash a stranger’s car to rescue a suffering animal; it’s already permissible to rescue a child in this way.

Experts are also warning the public to check in with their friends and family to make sure everyone is fine, because even a few degrees increase in temperature can cause the body temperature to spike.

During heat waves, it’s important to monitor the young and elderly for heat exhaustion and heat stroke that could be fatal, Kristie Ebi, a professor of global health at the University of Washington told ABC News.

“No one needs to die in a heat wave, yet we do have deaths. They’re all preventable.”

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Residents in SoCal and across the Southwest took to social media to complain about the heat. Some adventurous citizens decided to try baking cookies in their car, while others posted pictures of thermometers and temperature readings.

This is the hottest summer on record for three states: California, New Mexico, and Arizona. More than 300 million people are under heat advisories or warnings, so be careful out there.

Where will you take shelter from the heat wave hitting the Southwestern United States?

[Photo by AP Photo/Anna Johnson]