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Summer of '13 could tie, possibly beat all-time heat records in Salt Lake

Published: Monday, July 22 2013 5:20 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — If you think it has been insufferably, stifling hot for too long this summer, the record book for the Salt Lake City International Airport temperatures agrees with you.

Monday tied two previous record years with 15 days of summer heat that topped 100 degrees or more — going back 73 years to 1940 and 52 years to 1961.

"We are on track to tie the third highest record," said Lisa Verzella, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, speaking earlier Monday about the forecast. By 3:20 p.m., it had hit that triple-digit mark.

It is also anticipated to reach 100 degrees on Wednesday, which puts temperature readings at the Salt Lake airport on a path toward tying another record — that of 17 days of the extreme temperatures.

Verzella said two years — 2003 and 2007 — hit the 17-day mark and in 1960 and 1994, those years had 21 days of triple digit temperatures.

With more than a week left in July and August still to get through, Verzella said it's possible the remaining dog days of summer could push the area past that 21-day mark, which would mean 2013 would go down as the hottest year on record.

"It's hard to say with any certainty, but the Climate Prediction Center's seasonal outlook does have us slightly above normal for temperatures," she said. "They seem pretty confident we are going to be above normal."

The string of triple-digit temperatures this summer is helping to shape the past 10 years as the hottest on record.

"This decade has been really hot," Verzella said. She noted that the average number of days during a summer that would hit 100 degrees or higher — prior to this decade — was between three and six days. In the last 10 years, the average has been 7.5 days.

This summer's heat has also set other records, with the Wasatch Front's use of electrical power reaching a new height on July 1 between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Dave Eskelsen, Rocky Mountain Power spokesman, said use during that one-hour period was 36 percent higher than a typical spring day when demand is at its lowest.

In the summer, air conditioners, refrigerators and freezers account for more than 50 percent of a typical household's daily electrical use in Utah, according to Eskelsen.

"Half of the energy we supply is designed to keep things or people cool," he said.

Despite the demand and the heat, Rocky Mountain Power has been able to avoid outages from any overload of the system.

"It does test the system because we are delivering the maximum amount of energy our customers use during the year," he said.

Back in 2000, outages that were heat-related accounted for about 15 percent of the total number of outages in a year, Eskelsen said. Since then, the utility has instituted substantial investments to improve the system, bringing that percentage down in the last three to four years to less than 1 percent.

Other efforts help as well, including a June assessment in which the utility company looked at areas where additional capacity was needed. In some instances, to keep substations from running at full capacity, customers can be switched to another circuit to avoid outage problems.

The company also has its voluntary Cool Keeper program, in which 100,000 participants agree to hand over control of their air conditioners in certain circumstances to insure all units aren't running at once.

Eskelsen said the program was activated on July 1, July 2 and July 9 this year, for two hours or less.

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