AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The Southeast and southern Plains broiled under more record-breaking heat on Monday while heavy rain and gusting winds threatened to pummel the nation’s midsection.
Texas and Oklahoma confirmed more heat-related deaths and battled dozens of wildfires raging in the region. The outlook for relief in the next few days from the heat was bleak.
Oklahoma said 14 deaths from the heat were confirmed across the state since May, three of which were last week. Another 11 heat-related deaths were suspected.
Among the dead were two children, ages 3 and 8, who were left in hot cars.
“It’s just really, really terrible,” said Cherokee Ballard, spokeswoman for the state medical examiner’s office. “The heat has just been relentless. It has the entire state in its grip, and we are seeing people die from ages 3 to 91. It doesn’t discriminate, and that’s the scary thing about when it gets this hot.”
Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon broke its previous record high temperature for the day when thermometers hit 107 degrees. The previous record was set in 1970 when the high was 106, said Daryl Williams, a weather service meteorologist in Norman.
Fed by the heat and drought, some 59 wildfires have broken out in the past three days in Oklahoma, scorching more than 4,000 acres and forcing evacuations on Monday in Cleveland and Pawnee counties in north-central Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma Forestry Service.
At least 50 homes have been destroyed around the state, said Mark Goeller, assistant director of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, who said firefighting resources are being “stretched thin.”
Oklahoma had the hottest July ever recorded anywhere in the United States since the late 1800s, the National Weather Service said in a report.
“Only seven of the lower 48 states, all of them west of the Rockies, experienced a July average temperature near or below the 20th century average,” the report said.
In Fort Worth, Texas, officials confirmed on Monday that the weekend death of 72-year-old Janet Locklin was due to extreme heat. Locklin collapsed on her driveway as the mercury hit 106, the second heat-related death of the summer there.
In the neighboring Dallas area, 14 heat-related deaths have been confirmed since late June, the most recent on Friday.
In the Midwest, thunderstorms were expected to bring a severe weather including high winds, hail and heavy rain across the central Plains toward the Ohio Valley, said Rick Shanklin, National Weather Service meteorologist in Kansas City, Missouri.
Along with the storms, cooler air was expected to migrate into the region, Shanklin said.
Writing by Lauren Keiper; Additional reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin, Suzi Parker in Little Rock, and Steve Olafson in Oklahoma City; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune