NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Torrid weather continues across the southern plains into West Tennessee, with an anemic rain chance the best hope of temporary relief.
The National Weather Service continued an excessive heat warning until late Sunday night, cautioning that the prolonged heat is dangerous by itself, but could also drive heat indexes to 117 degrees. That's the combined effect on people of heat and high humidity.
Authorities in West Tennessee have confirmed four deaths as heat-related — three of them in Shelby County and the other in Tipton County.
At least one other fatality is being investigated as possibly connected to high temperatures. Shelby County health officials said Friday that the death of a 48-year-old Memphis police officer was not heat related, a day after Memphis Mayor A C Wharton speculated that it might be caused by sweltering temperatures.
The longer the hot spell wears on, the greater the concern, said Danny Gant, a forecaster for the weather service in Memphis.
"It's a cumulative danger" Gant said. "When you have longer periods of heat, you can't take the suffering for that long."
The northern half of West Tennessee got some heat relief Friday morning with widespread thundershowers and storms.
"There's a stationary boundary just a hair north of Interstate 40," Gant said, explaining the cause of the rain.
Farther east, mid-90s high temperatures are expected in Nashville into the next work week and a lingering thunderstorm chance is in the forecast.
"The stronger storms are going to be during the heat of the day," Gant said.
Even on the uplands of the Cumberland Plateau, weekend highs were expected to reach 90 degrees at Crossville. Mid-90s are expected in Chattanooga through the weekend. The thunderstorm chance goes up to 50 percent for the weekend in Knoxville, but highs into the mid-90s are still expected until Tuesday. Low 90s readings and a strong thunderstorm chance dominate the Tri-Cities forecast through Monday.
The usual cautions about hot weather apply — drink plenty of water; wear light-colored, loose fitting clothes; try to stay inside, at least during the hottest part of the day; check on elderly family members and neighbors.
The heat is a continuation of a weather system that brought daily high temperature readings on Wednesday of 106 degrees in Memphis, 102 in Nashville, 101 in Chattanooga and 99 in Knoxville.
Come next week, forecasters expect temperatures to moderate to near-normal readings.
Gant said that's because a stubborn high pressure ridge over Texas and Oklahoma is starting to erode.
"It's been a pretty strong high, but it weakens pretty good (in the forecast)," he said.
In addition to more normal temperature readings, an easterly flow of air should bring better rain chances.