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US South deep in heat, storms break out Northeast

By Karen Brooks

HOUSTON (Reuters) - The southern United States stood mired on Saturday in an unrelenting heat wave that promised more of the triple-digit temperatures that have roasted the region for weeks.

Forecasters predicted the heat and dryness will continue in the area at least through next week, though they looked for remnants of former tropical storm Emily to bring some rain to coastal Florida on Saturday night.

Heat advisories across much of the South and Central Plains were common Saturday and cut into the Midwest. Temperatures across the Missouri Ozarks and parts of Kansas reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service.

In the Northeast, extreme heat was easing with temperatures expected to dip into the low 70s in Trenton, New Jersey to give residents an escape from what AccuWeather.com forecasters called a "heat bubble" that had blistered the area in July.

But in the hot, dry South, the heat raged and temperatures hit 109 degrees in places like Oklahoma City, where the weather service warned residents to take precautions when outdoors.

James Trent, 54, a self-employed service technician in Moore, Oklahoma, said oppressive heat has changed the way many Oklahomans go about the work day. His work van's air conditioner broke down a few days ago, he said.

"Anybody who's got to work outdoors has to start by 6 a.m.," he said. "Then you've got to be done by 12. Almost all outdoor work is over by noon."

Danny Matthews, a truck driver, said he recently saw a dozen cattle carcasses by the highway in western Oklahoma.

A rancher told him the cattle had gone so long without water that when they finally had access to it, they drank themselves to death.

"It's sad," Matthews said. "It's real crazy. It's either sell 'em off, or let 'em die."

At a national prayer rally in Houston's Reliant Stadium, temperatures outside pushed into the upper 80s by mid-morning and humidity soared -- leading rally leaders to encourage attendees who were planning to fast throughout the day to reconsider if they get too hot.

"Drink water, do what you need to do, don't worry about what others are doing," Luis Cataldo of the Kansas City International House of Prayer told the thousands gathered at the indoor stadium.

In Dallas, temperatures topped 100 degrees for the 36th consecutive day with no relief in sight. Temperatures stood at 108 degrees in Little Rock, Arkansas, Saturday afternoon.

The extreme weather conditions continued to fuel wildfires throughout the South. Thirteen new fires broke out in Texas on Friday, lighting up the sky between Austin and Houston and diverting traffic off major state highways.

In central Texas, a relatively small fire in Bastrop County that had burned 850 acres threatened some 40 homes and was about 45 percent contained, forestry officials said.

Two Black Hawk helicopters and an air attack plane were sent to that fire on Saturday, officials said.

In neighboring Arkansas, the forestry commission declared extreme fire dangers in 25 counties Saturday as heat, high winds and low humidity created a perfect brew for wildfires. Some 52 of 75 Arkansas counties are under burn bans.

The Arkansas Forest Commission had a single engine air tanker on standby Saturday and another flying in on Sunday. Two National Guard helicopters also helped to contain wildfires.

Crews suppressed 92 Arkansas wildfires that burned 1,160 acres in just the first five days of August, compared with a 10-year average for the whole month of 158 wildfires and 1,433 acres, commission spokesman Christina Fowler told Reuters.

A single engine air tanker crashed on Friday in Hot Springs, Arkansas, after leaving the local airport to make a water drop on a wildfire in western Arkansas. The pilot was treated and released from a local hospital.

Scattered thunderstorms were expected from Northeastern states through the Ohio valley and Tennessee Valley, said John Racy, a lead forecaster at the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center. Parts of western New England down to the mid-Atlantic area will also be affected, Racy said.

Severe storms were also possible in Minnesota and Wisconsin and to the south in parts of Nebraska and Kansas. Scattered storms could bring heavy rain, hail and damaging winds, according to the weather service.

"Bands of severe storms will bear down on the Midwest through tonight, threatening to cause damage, sporadic power outages and flash flooding," AccuWeather.com forecaster Brian Edwards predicted.

(With additional reporting by Suzi Parker in Little Rock, Steve Olafson in Oklahoma City, and Eric Johnson in Chicago; Editing by David Bailey)