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Record-toppling heat heads north, and it's 'just going to get hotter'

Excessive heat continues in the West, where the added danger of monsoon flow can deliver dry lightning strikes. KNBC's Fritz Coleman reports.

The brutal heat wave baking much of the Southwest was bringing record-breaking temperatures Monday to traditionally cool parts of the Northwest where summer is more a state of mind than a season of sweat.

The oppressive heat — unusually high even for summer ovens like Death Valley, Calif., and Las Vegas — has immersed the western third of the country in dangerous conditions, feeding wildfires and droughts with little relief in sight. It has already killed at least one person, an elderly man who suffered cardiac arrest Saturday in an un-air-conditioned residence in Las Vegas, NBC station KSNV reported.

After setting records across the Southwest, the weather system — a smothering dome of high pressure stretching from Montana to Arizona — was starting to broil western areas of Washington and Oregon, where high temperatures might top out in the mid-80s once or twice a year, thanks to the cooling effects of the Oregon Coast Mountains and the Olympic Mountains in Washington.

But "right now, we're not feeling the cooling from the ocean at all," National Weather Service meteorologist Shawn Weagle told the Register-Guard of Eugene, Ore.

"It is just going to get hotter," said Mike Linden, a meteorologist for NBC station KNDU of Kennewick, Wash.

Heat advisories and warnings covered Washington, Oregon and Idaho through Tuesday evening.

Two guys from the National Weather Service harnessed the power of the sun and took advantage of the extreme heat wave scorching the Western U.S. to bake up some fresh cookies on the dashboard of their car. TODAY's Dylan Dreyer reports.

"The combination of hot temperatures and high humidity will combine to create a dangerous situation in which heat illnesses are likely," the National Weather Service said.

"Hot weather isn't frequent in Seattle," Mayor Mike McGinn said. While the high of 90 degrees Monday would be welcome relief for people in the Southwest, it broke Seattle's July 1 record of 87.

The city was closing the University Bridge, a major commuter passage, for 10 minutes every hour so it could be flushed to keep it from getting too hot, the Seattle Times reported. East of Renton, a southern suburb, work crews were trying Monday to repair a busy road that buckled in the heat — essentially melting open, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.

McGinn noted that many homes don't have air conditioning, and he urged residents to use the 18 city library branches that do have it as cooling centers.

In other Northwest cities where the Pacific and the mountains have little effect, triple-digit temperatures were expected Tuesday. Yakima, Wash., was forecast to hit 106 degrees. Ashland, Ore., was forecast to hit 105. And Boise, Idaho, was expected to top out at 109 — 2 degrees below the all-time record, set on July 19, 1960.

"It's amazing how much we take for granted shade and cool weather until it gets really hot like this, and then you really realize it," Abby Sweet, who was outside watering plants Monday at CFW Earth and Wood Nursery in Missoula, Mont., told NBC station KECI.

Meanwhile, areas from the Carolinas to New England have experienced flooding because of a big, rain-producing weather system that has settled along the coastline. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

The Northwest was only going through what residents of the rest of the West have been experiencing since last week. How hot has it been? It even hit 83 degrees Sunday in Fairbanks, Alaska.

It's hard to set records for heat in the Southwest, but more fell Sunday. Las Vegas hit 117 degrees. Since record-keeping began there in 1937, the only other times the temperature reached 117 degrees were on July 19, 2005, and July 24, 1942, according to the National Weather Service. 

In addition to the man who died, seven other people were hospitalized for heat-related illnesses Sunday, the Las Vegas Sun reported.

The mercury rocketed to 128 degrees Sunday in Death Valley National Park, the National Weather Service said, tying the record for the hottest June day anywhere in the country.  But the Los Angeles Times reported that the National Park Service thermometer — 200 yards away — recorded a temperature of 129.9, which shatters the record for June. 

The highest-ever recorded air temperature on the planet, according to the Weather Service, was 134 degrees on July 10, 1913, in Death Valley’s Greenland Ranch.

Meanwhile, nearly half of Utah, where temperatures reached triple digits for the fifth straight day in Salt Lake City, was suffering a severe drought, NBC station KSL of Salt Lake City reported.

"We have a huge drought situation," Claudia Jarrett, chairwoman of the Sanpete County Commission, told KSL. "There's just been no rain. The streams are not filling and the ponds are not filling. It is a critical water situation."

The heat was also causing some Salt Lake City highways to buckle, the Utah Transportation Department told KSL.

Adan Carrillo, a spokesman for the department, said many highways have expansion joints designed to lessen contraction and expansion due to weather. But years of wear and tear have taken a toll.

"With the amount of heat we're experiencing, the joints are saturated with dirt and debris, leaving little to no room for these concrete panels to expand," he said.

Tracy Jarrett and Alastair Jamieson of NBC News contributed to this report.

Dozens of people have been hospitalized because of heat-related injuries in the high temperatures that are gripping the Western U.S. Some cities have seen temperatures soar far past the hundred-degree mark, while the heat continues. TODAY's Dylan Dreyer reports.


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