USA Today -- Relief is in sight for millions of Americans who have endured the nation's record-setting heat wave.
The heat wave is forecast to break this weekend in many parts of the country.
Cooling will begin Saturday across the Dakotas and Nebraska, but states that have had the most persistent, gruelling heat won't see normal to below-normal temperatures until Sunday, says meteorologist Brian Korte of the National Weather Service.
"For the most part by Sunday it breaks across the Midwest and across most of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region. By Sunday temperatures are dropping already across all of those areas," Korte said.
The heat wave was caused by a high-pressure system that loitered for days over the Plains and the Midwest. Combined with a drought that has left little moisture in the ground to provide evaporative cooling, desert-like conditions persisted over much of the country.
"That would be great if it would come to an end," said Rick Smith, owner of Smith and Sons Tuckpointing in St. Louis, where temperatures have topped 100 every day this month.
Smith's 12 employees have been starting work at 5 a.m. and quitting by 1 p.m. for two weeks to escape the worst of the ovenlike conditions. In 28 years in business, "this is about the worst I've seen it," he said.
Apart from the hundreds of daily heat records surpassed in recent days, drought in the USA is also higher than ever since the U.S. Drought Monitor was created in January 2000. In the 48 contiguous states, 56% of the total area is in some stage of drought, breaking the previous high of 55% set Aug. 26, 2003.
"It's been an unusual event," Korte said.
Friday is the ninth day in a row that Washington, D.C., recorded temperatures of 95 degrees or above, a record, and the city will hit at least 100 Saturday, Korte said. The previous record was eight days in a row, set in 1987 and tied in 1993 and 2002.
Nationwide, 4,230 daily heat records and 233 all-time heat records were broken in the past 30 days, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
Starting this weekend, thunderstorms and rain will shower the Rockies, the desert Southwest and areas to the east, says forecaster Bruce Sullivan of the National Weather Service. Showers will develop in the central southern Plains, the Southeast and southern Mid-Atlantic. And a cool front will move across the Northeast late today or early Saturday morning, bringing a few showers followed by cooler air, he said.
"Early next week and even this weekend, we'll see rain in Kansas and Nebraska and parts of Texas,"
Three elderly people in St. Louis have died from the heat, said Bill Siedhoff, director of the St. Louis Department of Human Services. All had air conditioning, but it was turned off in one home to save money and wasn't working in two others.
In Chicago, where the Chicago Tribune reported heat buckled several roads Wednesday and Thursday, city officials responded to 516 heat-related 911 calls and 209 requests to check on the wellbeing of residents between June 28 and noon Friday, said Delores Robinson, spokeswoman for the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
The city, where a two-week heat wave in 1995 caused 739 excess deaths, issued its first heat warning June 18, when forecasters predicted several 95-degree days in a row, and started monitoring its response to the heat June 28, Robinson said.
The city confirmed one heat-related death since the heat wave began, said Efrat Stein, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Public Health. In addition, at least 172 emergency room visits and 52 admissions at Chicago hospitals were attributed to the heat, Stein said.
"I think everyone in the city of Chicago will be relieved to get to cooler temperatures, even if that's in the mid-80s," Robinson said Friday. "Our primary concern is our residents and visitors are cool and safe and treating the heat as a serious matter."