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Does Nevada's record-breaking heat so far foretell a summer of extreme weather?

People cool off in misters along the Las Vegas Strip, Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in Las Vegas. Parts of California, Nevada and Arizona are expected to bake this week as the first heat wave of the season arrives with triple-digit temperatures. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher
People cool off in misters along the Las Vegas Strip, Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in Las Vegas. Parts of California, Nevada and Arizona are expected to bake this week as the first heat wave of the season arrives with triple-digit temperatures.

Triple-digit temperatures in Las Vegas, wildfires in Northern and Eastern Nevada. It's time to get ready for a long, hot summer.

During the week of June 2, Las Vegas saw its first 110-degree day of the year, tying the record for that occurrence at the earliest date on the calendar. Meanwhile, small wildfires have already cropped up around the state. It's got amateurs and experts alike predicting a summer of potentially dangerous weather. What should people expect, and what should they do to prepare?

Dan Berc, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Las Vegas, says his agency uses a combination of historical data and scientific observation of current patterns to make weather predictions. They estimate Nevada has a 60% chance of seeing above-normal temperatures this summer.

"I can't say specifically, 'We're gonna get to temperatures nearing the record of 117 in Vegas,' but we'll certainly have long periods of time when we've got temperatures well over or close to 110 or more," Berc says. "We're just looking at the trends to see what would be more or less likely."

Heat like this can kill. Last year saw 294 heat-related deaths, according to the Southern Nevada Health District reported; that's 78% more than in 2022. Emergency-department visits due to heat approached 2,300.

Health department educator Katarina Pulver says people need to be on the lookout for heat exhaustion symptoms, such as red face and profuse sweating. People in that state need to move or be moved to the shade, have their clothing loosened, and given something to drink.

Heat stroke signs are very dry, red, hot skin, Pulver says. "They have a strong pulse, but they are maybe losing consciousness or or not able to remain conscious with you, in which case you really need to call 911 to get emergency services out to wherever you are," she adds. Stay with the person, get them into the shade or to someplace cool, but don't try to give them water. The emergency operator will guide you through next steps.

Populations that are vulnerable to heat exposure include children, the elderly, those with chronic illnesses, and those without access to air conditioning. Those who suffer the most are unhoused populations. Individuals can help the community at large by checking on loved ones and neighbors during extreme heat events. Information on cooling stations and other resources is at the health district's website.

Pulver also advises those who like doing things outdoors such as gardening and hiking to limit these activities to times when the sun and temperature are low.

And speaking of the outdoors, the summer doesn't only bring extreme heat to Nevada; it also brings an elevated risk of wildfire. Kacey KC, the state forester and fire warden for the Nevada Division of Forestry, says the two heavy winters of 2023 and '24 actually increased the risk of wildfire by feeding the growth of wild grasses, which act as kindling.

"We're not as worried about the upper elevations," KC says. "The high elevation snowpack is going to remain, probably, into July or August. So, areas like the Tahoe Basin and down on Mount Charleston will have a little bit of a reprieve from fire season until later into maybe August or September."

The rest of the state, however, has been in an ongoing drought. That ,combined with the heat, means parts of Northern and Southern Nevada are vulnerable to wildfire at least until the monsoon rains come.

"In the state, about six out of 10 (wildfires) are caused by humans," KC says. "We don't know when those are going to come in. So, it's hard to predict."

She adds that the Interagency Fire Center, established decades ago to facilitate joint response to wildfires across jurisdictions, is an important effort in the prevention of fires as well.

"We work hand in hand trying to take our limited assets, both people and time and money, and actually focus our efforts in putting in fuel brakes and or whatever we're trying to do to mitigate the risk in the areas of most critical needs," she says.

Homeowners can help by preparing their own property — knowing their risk, creating defensible spaces, moving flammable materials away from the house, cleaning gutters, and the like. More information is available at the Nevada Division of Forestry's website.

Guests: Dan Berc, meteorologist, National Weather Service Las Vegas; Katarina Pulver, health educator, Southern Nevada Heath District; Kacey KC, state forester and fire warden, Nevada Division of Forestry

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Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and KNPR's State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022. In 2024, CEO Favian Perez promoted Heidi to managing editor, charged with integrating the Desert Companion and State of Nevada newsroom operations.
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