Withering heat sweeps Southwest; Phoenix braces for 120 degrees

John Bacon and Ryan Randazzo, USA TODAY NETWORK

Published 10:45 a.m. ET June 20, 2017 | Updated 31 minutes ago


With temperatures projected to reach record highs this week, The Republic went out to see how the people of Phoenix were reacting to the heat wave. Sam Caravana/azcentral.com

A brutal heat wave in the Southwest grounded some jets and prompted energy conservation warnings as air conditioners roared through a swelter that could bring 120-degree temperatures to some areas.

“We are looking at record-setting heat in the Southwest for the next two or three days, and this is an area that doesn’t need records to be very, very hot,” National Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Orrison told USA TODAY.

The heat, blamed on a large and persistent high pressure system, is scorching parts of California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. Sin City will be sun city Tuesday and Wednesday, when forecast highs of 117 and 116 could break records for those days, Orrison said.

Power companies were on alert. The California Independent System Operator Corporation, which manages 80% of the state’s power grid, issued a statewide call for voluntary conservation from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Consumers are urged to conserve electricity, especially during the late afternoon when air conditioners typically are at peak use,”  the alert said, adding that businesses and residents can help avoid power outages by turning off lights, not using major appliances during the heat of the day and setting air conditioners to 78 degrees or higher.

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In Arizona, power companies expressed confidence they could keep air conditioners running. Phoenix reached 118 degrees on Monday and faced forecast highs Tuesday of 120 degrees and Wednesday of 116 degrees. Phoenix’s record-high temperature of 122 degrees was set on June 26, 1990.

“It may not break the record, but it will at least get very close,” Orrison said. “And there will be a number of daily records broken across the Southwest this week.”

Both Arizona Public Service Co. and Salt River Project expect heavy energy demand that could approach or exceed records, Salt River spokeswoman Patty Garcia-Likens said.

“We feel confident we can meet the demands of our customers,” she said. “We work throughout the year to prepare for days like this.”

Salt River set its power-demand record last year on June 19, from 4 to 5 p.m. as temperatures in metro Phoenix hit 118 degrees.

American Airlines canceled dozens of regional flights out of Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix because its Bombardier CRJ aircraft have a maximum operating temperature of 118 degrees. Tuesday’s forecast high for Phoenix was 120 degrees, and the flights that are affected were to take off from 3 to 6 p.m.

Larger jets have higher maximum operating temperatures — Boeing, 126 degrees, and Airbus, 127 degrees — and can handle the intense heat, the airline said.

Orrison said the high-pressure system should drift off by week’s end, taking the edge off the heat.

“It will cool down, but it will still be summer,” Orrison said. “We have a long way to go.”

Bacon reports for USA TODAY, Hansen for The Arizona Republic. Contributing: Zachary Hansen, The Arizona Republic

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