COLUMBIA, S.C. — A scorching heat wave weeks before the start of summer is gripping the Deep South, with several cities reporting the hottest temperatures ever recorded in May.
High temperatures were at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit Sunday in Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina; Fayetteville and Wilmington in North Carolina; Savannah and Macon in Georgia; and Gainesville, Florida. It was the third day of temperatures in that range this week, and Monday was expected to be just about as hot.
Savannah's high of 102 degrees was a record for all of May and hotter than any day so far this year in Phoenix, as the same weather pattern bringing the unprecedented heat to the Southeast also has the desert southwest in the U.S. unusually cool. The high in Death Valley, California, on Sunday was 82 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
While unusual for late May, this kind of heat isn't unheard of for the Deep South in the middle of summer. Officials did not report a large number of people sickened by the hot weather, even over the long Memorial Day weekend.
The above normal temperatures will continue through the middle of the week, said National Weather Service meteorologist Michael Emlaw in Charleston.
But the record hot May doesn't mean the whole summer will simmer in the Southeast U.S.
A big factor will be whether the area can shake loose from the unusually dry weather pattern too, Emlaw said.
"The lack of rain is making it hotter. With the ground dry, all of the sun's energy is put into heating the atmosphere instead of some of it being used to evaporate moisture in the ground," Emlaw said.
A few isolated portions of the region are already looking at water shortages. Pender County in southeast North Carolina declared a water shortage emergency. But most of the region is not in a drought yet.
That dry weather has made this May heat wave a little more tolerable than most dead-of-summer heat waves in the Southeast. The humidity has been a bit lower, preventing the oppressive, heat blanket that the Deep South often feels in summer.
"It doesn't feel bad as 100 might feel in July," Emlaw said. "If that's a plus, I guess we'll take it."