PHOENIX (AP) — A blazing heat wave expected to send the mercury soaring to nearly 120 degrees in Phoenix and Las Vegas settled over the West on Friday, threatening to ground airliners and raising fears that people and pets will get burned on the scalding pavement.
The heat was so punishing that rangers took up positions at trailheads at Lake Mead in Nevada to persuade people not to hike. Zookeepers in Phoenix doused elephants with water and fed tigers frozen fish snacks. And tourists at California's Death Valley took photos of the harsh landscape and a thermometer that read 121.
The mercury there was expected to reach nearly 130 on Friday — just short of the 134-degree reading from a century ago that stands as the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth.
"You have to take a picture of something like this, otherwise no one will believe you," said Laura McAlpine, visiting Death Valley from Scotland.
The heat presented problems for airlines because extreme temperatures make it difficult for smaller planes to lift off. When the air gets so hot, it becomes less dense, requiring longer runways and less fuel in the tanks to reduce weight.
Officials said big jetliners function fine in the heat, but smaller regional airlines may have delays.
The National Weather Service said Phoenix could reach 118 on Friday, while Las Vegas could see the same temperature over the weekend in what would be a record for Sin City. The record in Phoenix is 122.
The heat wave is not expected to break until Monday or Tuesday.
“This is the hottest time of the year, but the temperatures that we'll be looking at for Friday through Sunday, they'll be toward the top," said National Weather Service meteorologist Mark O'Malley. "It's going to be baking hot across much of the entire West."
Officials said personnel were added to the U.S. Border Patrol search and rescue unit because of the danger to people trying to slip across the Mexican border. At least seven people have been found dead in the last week in Arizona after falling victim to the brutal desert heat.
In June 1990, when Phoenix hit 122 degrees, airlines were forced to cease flights for several hours because the planes didn't have the data needed to know how they would fly in temperatures above 120.
US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher said the airline's Boeings can now fly at up to 126 degrees, and its Airbus fleet can operate at up to 127.
While the heat in Las Vegas is expected to peak on Sunday, it's not expected to sideline the first round of the four-week Bikini Invitational tournament.
"I feel sorry for those poor girls having to strut themselves in 115 degrees, but there's $100,000 up for grabs," said Hard Rock casino spokeswoman Abigail Miller. "I think the girls are willing to make the sacrifice."