- Associated Press - Thursday, June 28, 2012

Feeling the heat? So is a lot of the country.

From Montana to Louisiana, hundreds of heat records have been surpassed this week as temperatures leave cornfields parched and city sidewalks sizzling.

On Tuesday, 251 new daily high temperature records were set, boosting to 1,015 the number of records set in the previous seven days.

The consequences range from comical - a bacon-fried driveway in Oklahoma - to catastrophic, as wildfires consuming parts of the Rocky Mountains are fueled by oppressive heat and gusting wind.

The record-breaking numbers might seem high, but they are hard to put into context - the National Climatic Data Center has only been tracking the daily numbers for a little more than a year, said Derek Arndt, head of climate monitoring at the center.

Still, it’s impressive, given that records usually aren’t broken until the scorching months of July and August.

“Any time you’re breaking all-time records in mid- to late-June, that’s a healthy heat wave,” Mr. Arndt said.

And if forecasts hold, more records could fall in the coming days in the central and western parts of the country and extend to the East Coast through the weekend.

Though it’s been a week that could fry a person’s soul - and their soles and hands, really anything exposed to the relentless sun - no matter what the locale, the objective is the same: Stay cool.

All bets are off at the famed thoroughbred racetrack Churchill Downs during the heat wave - at least they were Thursday.

The Louisville, Ky., landmark canceled its racing card as meteorologists predicted temperatures would touch at least 100 degrees. Track spokesman Darren Rogers thinks it’s the first time the home of the Kentucky Derby has canceled racing due to extreme heat.

Longtime horse trainer Dale Romans has seen the toll that sweltering temperatures can take on the animals.

“I’ve seen horses have heat strokes, and it’s not a pretty sight,” the veteran Kentucky trainer said.

Mr. Romans said he thinks most of the horses and humans could handle the heat, but it’s not worth the risk, especially when the dirt track soaks up the sun’s heat.

“These are professional athletes,” he said. “They’re exerting all their energy, and everybody knows how tough it is to get that hot. Some of the horses just can’t cool down fast enough afterward.”

On the treeless, wind-swept Kansas prairie, the searing mix of sun and triple-digit heat can lead to agricultural disaster.

Some residents have taken to praying for rain and cooler temperatures in the sparsely populated western part of the state. Menlo farmer Brian Baalman can testify to that.

“Everybody is just sick of it. They just wish we would get a good rain,” he said. “It has become a point to pray for it at church on Sunday, for sure.”

Temperatures in the area have hovered around 111 degrees or higher for the past four days. Hill City, about 50 miles from Menlo, reached 115 Tuesday and Wednesday - earning it the distinction of the nation’s hottest spot, according to the National Weather Service.

Much of the fortunes in the Menlo area are tied to corn, a crop used not only for food but also ethanol-blended gasoline. But day after unyielding day of blazing sun and high heat have baked the top 6 inches of soil, and plant roots can’t break through to the moister soil below.

Growing corn in these hot and windy conditions, Mr. Baalman said, is impossible.

“It is getting to look ugly, the longer this keeps going on without a drink,” he said.

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