Updated Jul 19, 2022 - Energy & Environment

40 million under heat warnings as 89 large fires rage across U.S.

A National Weather Service heat map for Wednesday. Photo: NWS

Some 40 million Americans are under heat alerts due to "dangerous and intense," potentially record-breaking heat across the Plains and Mississippi Valley that's expected to expand into the Southeast this week.

The big picture: The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for Texas, and there are heightened fire dangers in several states. Firefighters are already battling 89 large fires across 12 states. An excessive heat warning was in effect for all of Oklahoma for Tuesday, with highs of 110-112°F expected — 16°F above the state's average.

An image of a weather map showing extreme heat over the entire state of Oklahoma.
A heat map of Oklahoma, where the entire state is under an excessive heat warning. Photo: Weatherbell.com
  • The National Weather Service also issued an excessive heat warning for Texas counties Menard, Kimble and Mason from noon Tuesday to 10pm Wednesday local time due to "dangerously hot conditions with high temperatures around 105 degrees" forecast for both days in those areas.

Why it matters: Summers are becoming deadlier as climate change blankets millions in heat waves whose public health consequences were until recently not fully understood, per Axios' Arielle Dreher.

What they're saying: "Numerous record high temperatures are possible Tuesday from western Kansas, southward through much of Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and western Arkansas," the National Weather Service said in a forecast discussion on Monday night.

  • "Heat advisories and excessive heat warnings currently stretch across much of the Plains, the Central Valley of California and portions of Arizona," the NWS said.
"Dry conditions and gusty winds in the wake of the front pushing through the Northern to Central Plains will keep an elevated fire weather threat over the next few days across portions of the Northern Rockies, Northern Great Basin and into the Central High Plains."
— National Weather Service

Zoom in: Tony Fracasso, a senior branch forecaster for the NWS Weather Prediction Center, told Bloomberg that Texas "is basically ground zero for the heat," as the state's power grid operator asks people to conserve electricity in the searing heat — with Fort Worth and Dallas forecast to hit 110°F and 109°F, respectively, on Tuesday.

  • A red flag warning has been issued for northern and central Texas from 10am Tuesday through 12am Wednesday local time.
  • Two large fires are already raging in the state — including a blaze that's been burning uncontained across some 500 acres that triggered evacuation orders for about 50 homes on Monday, KXAS-TV reports.
  • The Austin Airtanker Base has opened at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to assist with "increased wildfire activity," per KTBC.

By the numbers: In addition to the Texas wildfires, 70 large fires were burning across Alaska, and firefighters in both California and Nevada were battling three big blazes as of Monday, National Interagency Fire Center data shows.

  • New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming each had two large fires ablaze, according to the agency. Wyoming, Arizona, Nebraska, Idaho and Montana each reported one large fire.

What to watch: "A cold front sinking southward through the Central Plains on Wednesday will bring slight cooling to this region, but the record heat will continue farther to the south across much of Texas into northern Louisiana," according to the NWS.

Meanwhile, thunderstorms "with large hail and damaging winds will impact the Upper Midwest and upper Great Lakes Tuesday, lower Great Lakes Wednesday, and Northeast U.S. on Thursday," the weather service notes.

Go deeper: Historic heat wave, wildfires hit Europe as temperatures climb in U.S.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with more details on the forecast and further context on where fires are burning in the U.S.

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