By Molly O'Toole
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fiery reds and oranges
nearly covered the United States on meteorologist maps as a
massive heat wave hit hard in much of the country Saturday.
Temperatures averaged up to 15 degrees above normal, with
most peaks in the 90s but triple digit heat expected to strike
from Montana to New Mexico, according to lead meteorologists
for The Weather Channel and The National Weather Service.
Paired with oppressive humidity, temperatures will feel
even hotter, as measured by the heat indexes.
The NWS issued excessive heat warnings and watches for the
Midwest from Texas to Canada, and heat index values over 110
degrees Fahrenheit are possible for portions of the
central and eastern United States by the middle of next week.
Locations affected are expected to see temperatures and
heat indexes of up to 117 degrees, including cities like
Minneapolis where that is extremely rare.
"The stage is being set for a massive heat wave to
develop," the National Weather service warned Thursday.
"When your body temperatures rises on a hot day, as much as
two liters of sweat can pour out of ... sweat glands each
hour," said Weather Channel Senior Meteorologist Jonathan
Erdman, meaning your body has a harder time keeping cool.
Meteorologists predict the heat wave will hang on through
as late as Friday of next week. Following record heat that has
already blasted the country from early June, the prolonged high
temperatures pose special dangers to children and the elderly
and economic pain to farmers and ranchers.
While the year is entering its hottest time -- the latter
half of July -- an exceptional drought is exacerbating summer
heat that has broken daily, monthly and all-time record highs
over the last couple of months.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday that
drought and wildfires through spring and early summer have
affected millions of acres of cropland, forests and grasslands
across the United States.
In a statement directed to farmers and ranchers in states
affected by extreme weather, the USDA said drought conditions
stretch from Arizona to the southern Atlantic states.
In Colorado, the NWS forecasts temperatures to soar near
triple digits in the northern part of the state over the
weekend, after 10 straight days of monsoon rains.
The southern part of the state did not see the rains, and it
remains in the grips of a multiyear drought that prompted
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper this week to request
federal drought assistance in eight counties.
Most of Utah is expected to see temperatures in the 90s
over the weekend, according to the NWS, which also issued a
red-flag warning for extreme wildfire conditions in the
southwest and central parts of the state.
Several deaths in Tennessee, large swathes of which are
rural and poor, have been attributed to the prolonged heat wave
-- in a few cases, due to a lack of proper air conditioning.
Memphis Light Gas and Water began an emergency reconnection
program Friday for people who had been cut off for lack of
payment, letting them reconnect to the electricity that powers
cooling systems for one price, no matter how much they owe.
Next week the massive high pressure ridge suppressing storm
and cold fronts is expected to move from the central United
States to the east, spreading increasing heat to the
Mississippi and Ohio regions and East Coast.
(Additional reporting by Tim Ghianni in Nashville and Keith
Coffman in Denver; Editing by Jerry Norton and Todd Eastham)
© 2015 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.