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SPOTLIGHT
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Forecast: No relief in sight from Kansas heat

Published on -6/29/2012, 11:11 AM

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By ROXANA HEGEMAN

Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- To beat the scorching heat, repairman Tyler Elliott was working at 4 a.m. to keep cellphone towers cool to prevent breakdowns, then he put in a long day responding to emergency calls from customers around Hill City whose air conditioners broke down as temperatures hit 115 degrees.

The heat wave engulfing the state has been especially brutal in Hill City, a small northwest Kansas community where the hottest temperatures in the nation have been recorded for the past five days, according to the National Weather Service. On Thursday, Elliott said locals were excited to get "a little break" since temperatures were expected to top out at only 108 degrees -- but Thursday's official high was 111, keeping Hill City's recent streak as Kansas' hottest community intact.

Forecasters see no relief anytime soon. Statewide, forecasts call for temperatures mostly above 100 until at least next Wednesday.

Elliott, a co-owner of Elliott Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning in Hill City, said he made the mistake Tuesday of waiting until 7 a.m. to start his work day -- and didn't get home until 1 a.m. -- so he started several hours earlier Wednesday, when the 115-degree record was made. One of his employees was hospitalized with heat stroke last summer, so everyone is trying to be more careful this year to keep hydrated and as cool as possible, he said.

So far this month, nearly 40 people in Kansas have gone to hospitals across the state suffering from heat stroke or heat exhaustion, said Miranda Steele, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Heat also contributed to two deaths in May, she said.

No corner of Kansas has been spared. Of the 23 cities whose high temperatures are reported each evening by the National Weather Service, 22 had highs in triple digits Thursday, including Russell at 110 degrees, Hays at 109, and Dodge City, Liberal and Salina all at 108. Chanute was the least scorching -- at 99 degrees.

Weather service meteorologist Chris Jakub said the heat is the result of an upper-level high pressure zone sitting over the Central Plains that is refusing to break down or move out of the area.

However, the average temperature so far this month is actually lower than last year.

"People forget very quickly how cool it was to start out June," state climatologist Mary Knapp said.

Statewide average temperatures for the first 27 days of June 2011 were running 3.6 degrees above normal. During that same period this year, the average is just 3 degrees above normal.

But those are statewide averages. When broken down by region, the misery is a little more apparent.

Last summer it was the state's southern counties that saw temperatures almost 6 degrees above normal. This summer it is northwest and north central Kansas counties that are getting hammered with temperatures almost 7 degrees higher than normal, Knapp said.

The searing heat is once again baking western Kansas, particularly southwest Kansas. The western third of the state is officially in a severe to extreme drought, Knapp said.

Those conditions are especially dangerous when it comes to wildfires.

"It makes for very hazardous conditions very quickly -- and then you couple that with the warm temperatures, the strong winds and the low humidity and what little moisture is there evaporates very quickly," Knapp said.

A large grass fire in Phillips County was contained Wednesday evening, as were fires in Rooks and Ellis counties. Other fires were contained earlier Wednesday in Russell County, and near Great Bend in Barton County, according to The Kansas Division of Emergency Management. No fire outbreaks were reported Thursday in Kansas, but officials remained worried.

"Conditions are set for more fires to occur with continued heat and dry conditions," said Sharon Watson, the agency's spokeswoman.

Western Cooperative Electric Association in Wakeeney serves some 12,000 customers in 15 counties in western and northwest Kansas where the heat wave has been especially hard. Fires in 10 of those counties have burned down some poles and briefly disrupted power.

"Due to the load, we are concerned because our equipment, a lot of it, is very maxed out," said Western Cooperative general manager Dave Schneider. "Our transformers are running very hot, don't even cool down in the evening like they should. It is a big concern. We are just crossing our fingers and hoping we can get through this hot spell."

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