California Burnin': Western Heat Wave Spreads, With Wildfires, Temperatures Exceeding 110

Temps top 110 north of Los Angeles with wildfires and smog.

July 16, 2010 — -- You know things are bad when the National Weather Service issues an "Excessive Heat Warning" ... for the Mojave Desert.

But it did this morning: "A strong area of high pressure over the area will lead to a period of hot temperatures," the warning said. "Increasing monsoonal moisture will also lead to higher relative humidity. If precautions are not taken some folks may be overcome by the heat and suffer heat illness."

Southern California, including Los Angeles, was told to be ready for record temperatures and unusually high humidity today that is expected to last at least through Saturday night.

Downtown Los Angles had a forecast high temperature of 94 today -- an unremarkable number for many parts of the country in July, except that Los Angeles is in a basin surrounded by mountains, so that air gets trapped and smog levels rise on days like these.

Inland, where Pacific breezes do not reach, the town of Hemet reached 111 degrees on Thursday. Lake Elsinore and Acton, California reached 110 -- again, not extraordinary for communities on the edge of California's high desert, but dangerous if the humidity is high, as it has been in the morning.

The mix of heat, thunderstorms, lightning and dry brush was volatile in Southern California, where the state reported at least three major wildfires.

"We're looking at 490 acres this morning with 30-percent containment," said Capt. Fernando Herrera of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Forecasters said a bulge of high pressure had stalled over the Four Corners area of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. It drew hot desert air westward over the California mountains -- where it only got hotter as it descended to lower elevations.

"As soon as I get through watering, I'm going home to my nice little air-conditioned apartment and I'm staying inside," said Debra Spitz of Northridge, California, interviewed by KABC-TV. The temperature there was forecast to peak this afternoon at 103 degrees with almost no winds.

Heat Wave Over Southern California Will Spread East Next Week

The high today for Las Vegas was 114 -- mercilessly high, but, as Nevadans will tell you, something that often comes with the territory.

Things were not much better in other parts of the country. By early next week, the western heat is expected to move across the Rockies to the eastern two-thirds of the country, from Colorado to the Atlantic coast.

Washington, D.C. -- already shaken by a minor earthquake early this morning -- hit 97 degrees this afternoon. New York City had a forecast afternoon high of 95 and Baltimore got 98 -- lower temperatures than in the West, but much muggier.