By Kevin Murphy
KANSAS CITY, Mo (Reuters) - The Midwest cities of Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago and Kansas City could approach or break heat records on Thursday, as a massive high pressure system sent temperatures higher throughout most of the country.
Drought conditions have contributed to the early and sustained heat, according to Alex Sosnowski, expert senior meteorologist at AccuWeather.com. He said both St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri could hit 107 degrees Thursday. The high temperatures will move into the northeast Friday.
"A lot of these places haven't had a lot of rain, and dry soil contributes to heat," Sosnowski explained, when asked why the high temperatures are being seen so early in the summer. "The sun's energy doesn't go into evaporating moisture, so it heats the ground and that heats the air. It takes a really big rainfall event to bust a drought like this."
Though scattered thunderstorms are expected to throttle back the heat in the Midwest for Friday, Sosnowski does not see anything that would make much of an impact in dry areas.
The weather conditions have contributed to wildfires blazing across Colorado which have destroyed hundreds of homes.
The high temperatures and drought conditions also are damaging crops - U.S. corn prices have soared 17 percent this month as the hot dry weather persists in the main growing area of the Midwest.
For the fifth day in a row Wednesday, no place in the country was hotter than Hill City, Kansas, a farming community in the northwest part of the state. Hill City and Phillipsburg, Kansas tied for the nation's hottest spot on Wednesday at 115 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. The Thursday forecast is 109 degrees.
"It feels like you have a big old furnace blowing in your face," said Rayson Brachtenbach, a technician at Elliott Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning and Electric in Hill City.
Brachtenbach said the hot weather has kept Elliott busy repairing air conditioning systems with compressors lacking the capacity to cool houses in the extreme heat. "Five or six days around 115 degrees is really hard on them," he said.
A city in the Midwest having the nation's high temperature for five days in a row is very unusual, said Chris Foltz, a meteorologist for the NWS in Goodland, Kansas.
"It's what you expect in the desert of Nevada or California," Foltz said. "Hill City is where the high pressure is anchored. It's like the heat perpetuates itself."
In Chicago, summer school was closed Thursday for 10 public schools that lack air conditioning.
In Indiana, burn bans are in effect 74 of 92 counties, and 45 counties have restrictions on shooting off fireworks.
Continuing high temperatures in the south have led the Birmingham, Alabama, police to decide to check on the sick and elderly through Sunday.
"We want to ensure our citizens remain safe during the excessive heat outbreak," said Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski, Kevin Murphy, Christine Stebbins, Keith Coffman, and Susan Guyett; Editing by Greg McCune and Jackie Frank)