- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2007

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Cattle rancher Sharon McDonald may see her hay crop turn to dust if a record-breaking heat wave doesn’t lift soon.

Oppressive temperatures eased a bit in some parts of the West, but Miss McDonald’s central Montana ranch baked under triple-digit heat. Forecasters reported little relief in the days ahead, saying the weather system that brought the high temperatures could last well into next week.

In Montana, where cattle outnumber residents by more than 2-to-1, livestock and people sought shade and drought-weary farmers watched for damage to grain.

“We are trying to get our hay up before it disintegrates,” said Miss McDonald, a rancher near Melville. “It just gets crispy and just falls apart.”

Warnings of excessive heat were posted yesterday for much of Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington state.

Air conditioners — and even swamp coolers — were predictably hot sellers at the hardware store.

“I’m telling you, it has been nuts,” said Dennis VanDyke, a manager at Power Townsend in Helena. “The only thing I am getting calls for is air conditioners.”

Mr. VanDyke said some people prefer swamp coolers, which use a fan and the condensation of water to cool the air, over the more power-hungry air conditioning units.

“They are being bought faster than we can put them on the shelves,” he said.

In Montana, temperatures above 100 are usually not seen until August. The normal July high in Helena is 83 degrees. By midday yesterday, records were already set or tied in the Montana cities of Cut Bank, Great Falls, Havre, and Bozeman.

The Montana Department of Transportation said it was putting maintenance crews to work early in the morning so they could finish by midday.

In Boise, where it was well above 100 degrees yesterday, some found it was too hot to play at a public water fountain.

“We’ll probably leave soon. Two or three o’clock is about my limit before I want to get in some air conditioning,” mother Monica Player said as children ran through jets of water.

Temperatures were expected to ease slightly in Southern California. Phoenix saw a modest drop, a relatively cooler 111 degrees compared to 115 Thursday. With the approach of Arizona’s summer rainy season, humidity levels have started climbing along with power demand.

Temperatures in Montana could start to fall a bit by today, said Chris Velver, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Great Falls. In eastern Oregon, which set 15 record highs on Thursday, temperatures were expected to fall to between 94 and 100 degrees.

But the heat will hover over most of the far West through at least the end of next week, said Kelly Redmond, a regional climatologist for the National Weather Service. He said it could migrate further inland and cover more of the West, including Colorado, as the week goes on.

“It looks like it is going to stay place for a good long while,” he said.

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