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Heat wave: Temperature could hit 130 degrees in Death Valley

FURNACE CREEK, Calif.  -- The National Weather Service forecast for Death Valley National Park on Sunday is a scorcher, with the mercury expected to soar to around 130 degrees for the first time in nearly a century.

“It hasn’t been that hot in Death Valley – or anywhere else in the United States – since July 13, 1913,” said Chris Stachelksi, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Las Vegas office, which tracks the park’s weather.

Saturday’s high temperature of 128 at Furnace Creek, in the heart of Death Valley, tied the record for the month of June.

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The highest temperature ever recorded on Earth is 134 degrees, recorded in Death Valley on July 10, 1913.

At 4 p.m. Sunday, Death Valley interpretive ranger Carole Wendler is expected to check the park meteorological equipment at park headquarters and announce the “unofficial” high for the day. The official reading will be taken from electronic readings that will not be available until 8 a.m. Monday.

In the meantime, “Our main concern is safety,” Wendel said. “We’re advising visitors that this is not the weekend to go hiking here. If your car breaks down, stay with your car and flag down help. Do not walk for help.”

Furnace Creek Resort housekeeper Peter Whitney, like many local residents, said he would not go anywhere on foot without his large blue and white umbrella and container of ice water.  “This umbrella takes five degrees off the heat,” he said, “which makes all the difference on a day like this one.”

Park visitor Jon Rice, 42, of Longmont, Colo., said he plans to run a mile at 4 p.m. — in what he described as a “full-blown Darth Vader suit.”

“My goal is to set a world record for the hottest run ever verified,” Rice, who writes infomercials for a living, said with a smile. “I call it the Darth Valley Challenge.”

The entire Southern California region will see extreme  temperatures.

“Today is supposed to be the peak in heating,” National Weather Service meteorologist Carol Smith said.

Smith said that the hottest temperatures tend to get recorded in the late afternoon, between about 2 and 4 p.m. An excessive heat warning remains in place for the Antelope Valley, other valley areas, the Santa Monica Mountains and inland coastal areas. Smith said heat records could fall in any of those parts of Los Angeles County.

“I’m certain we’ll break day records, and it’s possible that we’ll break some all-time records today,” she said.

Specifically, she pointed to Lancaster and Palmdale, which were expecting high of 113 degrees. The area’s all-time record is 114. Woodland Hills could hit 111 degrees, while Camarillo could edge up from the high 80s to low 90s on Sunday.

In Los Angeles, the heat is a particular concern to firefighters because it comes in a year of record dry conditions that have already sparked several major brush fires in the area.

Fireworks also went on sale Friday in some areas, adding another fire danger. Fireworks will be sold in 295 designated communities in the state through the Fourth of July.

Since January, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has responded to about 2,900 fires, department spokesman Daniel Berlant said. In an average year, he said, it would have responded to fewer than 1,800 by this time.

Dry brush is a reason for the increase in fires, Berlant said. Current weather conditions are more typical of late August or early September, he said.

"We're in a long-term drought," climatologist Patzert said. "The situation is extremely crispy and dry. That equals incendiary."

Several agencies opened cooling centers — air-conditioned facilities where the public can escape the heat — in Los Angeles County. For information about the centers, call 211 or check out an interactive map of the centers online.

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louis.sahagun@latimes.com

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