A record-breaking heat wave is sweeping across Colorado this week, triggering plans at more than 30 Denver public schools to send children home early or close them altogether, and send residents across the Front Range rushing to greater confines costs.
On Tuesday, the high temperature in Greeley reached 101, according to the National Weather Service, breaking the 2-year-old record of 100 set in 2020.
Yesterday’s record could be the first of three consecutive days. Wednesday’s expected high of 98 would break the record of 97 set in 2002 and similarly Thursday’s expected high of 100 would break the current mark of 96 set in 2005.
The normal high temperature for this time of year in Greeley is 85 degrees, according to NWS.
The Boulder National Weather Service issued a heat advisory Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in metro Denver and the northern Front Range, warning that hot temperatures can cause heat-related illnesses.
Denver, meanwhile, is opening all of its recreation centers to the public for free as “cooling stations” during regular business hours Wednesday and Thursday. Denver Public Libraries will also be available for those trying to escape the heat.
Temperatures hit a high of 98 in Denver on Tuesday, breaking a 2-year-old record by one degree. Mercury on Wednesday and Thursday is also expected to hit nearly 100 degrees, according to the National Weather Service, which would shatter previous records of 95 and 94, respectively.
Normal highs in Denver are 84 degrees for this time in September.
“Hundred-degree days are pretty rare in Denver,” said Ayesha Wilkinson, meteorologist at NWS Boulder.
Denver has seen five so far this year, the third-most in any year since 1872, according to National Weather Service data. The highest mark was set in 2012, when there were 13 triple-digit days in Denver, followed by seven in 2005.
If temperatures hit 100 this week, Wilkinson said, it will be the last year Denver hits that number.
The Boulder National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for parts of metro Denver below 6,000 feet above sea level, Fort Collins and Greeley, with afternoon temperatures expected between 94 and 99 degrees.
The weather service advised people to drink plenty of water, never leave children or pets in vehicles, and watch family members and neighbors. Above normal temperatures are also expected through Thursday.
The mountains won’t be spared the heat either: highs in Kremmling are set to reach 88 degrees on Wednesday, which would break the record of 86 degrees set in 2020.
The unusually warm weather is the result of what’s called an upper-level ridge weather pattern, which means dry conditions and less cloud cover, Wilkinson said. That, combined with La Niña conditions, means triple-digit days in the Eastern Plains and Front Range urban corridor.
🌡️ Record heat from today to Tuesday 🌡️
Avoid strenuous outdoor activities during the peak heat of the day, wear light, loose clothing, stay hydrated, and seek shade. Know the difference between heatstroke and heat exhaustion. #COwx pic.twitter.com/Io2MoOyLIt
— NWS Boulder (@NWSBoulder) September 6, 2022
Climate scientists say more of these days can be expected in coming years as the climate warms.
Coloradons could also see smoke from fires in Idaho and Montana this week, fueled by westerly winds, Wilkinson said. That should ease on Friday when a cool front is expected to start bringing temperatures down, she said. Denver’s high on Saturday is expected to be in the mid-60s.
Winds will be relatively light this week, reducing the state’s vulnerability to fires.
“It will be near critical conditions through Thursday, but not red flag warnings,” Wilkinson said.
The September heat wave also forced 28 Denver schools without air conditioning to send students home earlier this week. Four others have closed entirely, according to Denver Public Schools. Some schools have recorded temperatures of 90 degrees inside classrooms.
“It comes down to a student safety issue,” said Denver Public Schools spokesman Scott Pribble.
Mitigation efforts, such as portable air conditioners and large fans, have not been enough, he said. The district, meanwhile, is still waiting for cooling supplies from overseas that were supposed to be here this summer, Pribble said.
For those battling the heat at home, Xcel Energy advised people to use blinds or curtains to keep the heat out, to ensure that all exterior doors are fully closed and to use ceiling fans. The energy giant also recommended cleaning air conditioner coils to improve efficiency and save energy, and switching to programmable thermostats.
Anyone in need of Denver’s network of shelters, where homeless people can seek refuge, can find more information here.
City officials also encouraged anyone who sees a dog in a burning car to immediately call 311 or the Denver police non-emergency number: 720-913-2000.
Denver Post reporter Saja Hindi and Greeley Tribune editor Jerry Martin contributed to this story.