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Sweltering Heat Wave Roasts 24 States, Feeds Wildfires

July 12, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
A heat wave blasted half of the U.S. Tuesday and triple-digit temperatures roasted Americans in cities in the Midwest and South. Gwen Ifill reports on the unrelenting hot weather, which broke a series of records and triggered heat warnings and advisories in multiple states.

GWEN IFILL: Another blistering forecast greeted millions of Americans today. The unrelenting hot weather broke a series of records and triggered warnings in state after state.

CHILD: Judging by the way I’m sweating, it was eight out of a scale of 10.

GWEN IFILL: For large portions of the country, the sweating is a long way from over, with no end to temperatures of 100 degrees and above.

MAN: How hot do you guys think it is?

CHILD: One hundred and twelve?

CHILD: One hundred and six?

CHILD: One hundred and twelve?

GWEN IFILL: In Wichita, a high yesterday of 111 degrees, breaking a record set in 1982. It was expected to hit 103 today, the 20th straight day of triple-digit heat.

In Arkansas, some who lost their homes in spring tornadoes were left to endure the extreme heat in tents.

MAN: How do you work in 110 degrees?

WOMAN: You don’t.

GWEN IFILL: Also dangerously hot, Memphis, where daily highs between 99 and 110 degrees are expected through Friday, with people doing just about anything to stay cool.

CHILD: The water is really cold, yes. It — because, when it’s so hot, it just feels really good to go and jump in.

GWEN IFILL: In Raleigh, N.C., today, temperatures hit 100 for the first time this year, and emergency crews followed their own advice, to get out of the heat.

WOMAN: We stay air conditioned as much as we possibly can. Our trucks are air conditioned, thank God.

GWEN IFILL: Heat advisories and excessive heat warnings have been issued in 24 states, stretching from the Midwest, across the South, and up the Eastern Seaboard, to the Northeast.

Records fell in June, too, as high temperatures and a lack of rainfall combined to create widespread drought. Fourteen states across the South and Southwest, from Florida as far west as Arizona, have been parched for nine months. In Texas, where conditions are among the worst:

MAN: We need rain. We really need rain.

GWEN IFILL: Lack of water also fueled massive wildfires in New Mexico and Arizona in recent months.

In recent days, Oklahoma Public Television shot these images of drought-stricken pastures, farmland and thirsty livestock in the western and southern regions of the state. Some farmers there have begun to sell off herds they can’t afford to feed.

And, as in so much of the rest of the country, temperatures in Oklahoma were forecast to shoot past the 100 mark for the 14th consecutive day today, and stay that way for nearly another week.

MAN: Smash the old record of 106, topping off at 110.

GWEN IFILL: Meteorologists say the immediate culprit is a high-pressure system stalled over much of the country’s midsection. The pattern is expected to break up later this week, at least in some places.