Grueling heat wave takes toll on Southwest

·4 min read

In this Tuesday, June 15, 2021, file photo, a pedestrian holds a bottle of cold water at a Salvation Army hydration station during a heatwave as temperatures hit 115 degrees in Phoenix. The Southwest U.S. continued to bake Saturday, June 19, and weather forecasters kept warnings in effect for excessive heat in Arizona, Nevada and desert areas, at least through the weekend. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Excessive heat and red flag warnings were in effect across portions of the southwestern United States on Monday as a blistering heat wave persisted across the region. The grueling heat stretch allowed numerous high-temperature records to fall -- and some locations were already ranking among the top-five 115-degree days in a year.

The warnings come just in time for the official start to summer, with several months of heat ahead for the region. Given that, residents of the Southwest may already be wondering when relief from the heat will arrive, especially as fire dangers loom large over the region with high winds and dry conditions elevating concerns.

AccuWeather forecasters say some relief may soon be on the horizon as the annual North American monsoon season could begin in early July.

"We're expecting a good monsoon, not a top-five producer, but I believe it will be much better than last year," said AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok. "It will hammer down in spots, but it won't end the drought."

William Heinz parks his vehicle on a newly revealed piece of land due to receding waters at the drought-stricken Folsom Lake in Granite Bay, Calif., Saturday, May 22, 2021. California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency for most of the state. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)

The North American monsoon is triggered when high humidity persists for three days in a row. The annual event is marked by a change in wind direction that can trigger persistent rainfall or a lengthy period of dry weather.

Pastelok said that the real monsoon could begin in early July, but some may argue the weather event's true beginning.


The monsoon is expected to be pretty persistent throughout July, with thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening, Pastelok added. There could be some lulls in August, he said.

Pastelok expects the monsoon to yield largely positive outcomes. The monsoon could help to fill up some of the riverbeds and reservoirs in the Southwest, he said, and the downpours could also help to extinguish some of the rampant wildfires.

"Any type of moisture source during this time is needed," Pastelok said.

A car crosses Enterprise Bridge over Lake Oroville's dry banks Sunday, May 23, 2021, in Oroville, Calif. At the time of this photo, the reservoir was at 39 percent of capacity and 46 percent of its historical average. California officials say the drought gripping the U.S. West is so severe it could cause one of the state's most important reservoirs to reach historic lows by late August, closing most boat ramps and shutting down a hydroelectric power plant during the peak demand of the hottest part of the summer. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Ahead of the monsoon, the heat is shattering records while much of the West is considered at least "abnormally dry," according to the latest available data in the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The high in Phoenix soared to 115 or higher for six consecutive days from Tuesday, June 15, to Sunday, June 20. That number of 115-degree days has already tied for the third-most number in a year, according to The National Weather Service, and that's quite the feat to happen on the first day of summer, which officially began on June 20.

The high temperature soared to 109 degrees on Monday, but it finally ended the streak of 115-degree plus days in Phoenix, according to AccuWeather forecasters.

In Death Valley, Califonia, temperatures rocketed to 128 degrees last week -- six degrees behind the 134-degree world record high temperature it set in 1913.

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, temperatures hit 114 degrees Saturday, a mark which hadn't been observed since 1940, according to The National Weather Service.

But there could be some signs of relief in the coming days, with some forecasts pointing to lower temperatures and moisture.

In Las Vegas, a windy Monday and Tuesday could transform into scattered showers and thunderstorms on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, according to The National Weather Service. Scattered showers are also set to hit Arizona Wednesday afternoon and evening.

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In Eureka, California, a slight chance of thunderstorms is expected over the next few days in the interior mountains of northwestern California.

With multiple active fires burning throughout the region, the upcoming monsoon could bring some natural relief.

"The big fires of the Southwest are usually early in the summer, and then the monsoon comes in and ends that," Pastelok said. "We need the monsoon," he said, adding that there's "a good shot" that the upcoming pattern could do just that.

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