BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Temperatures soared toward the triple digits across much of Alabama on Thursday, prompting police checks on the elderly and requests to conserve both power and water, as climate officials said a drought was worsening in the southeastern part of the state.

The National Weather Service said the mercury reached as high as 102 degrees by early afternoon in northwest Alabama as a dome of high pressure pushed into the state, and temperatures could reach the 105-degree range before cooler air breaks a heat wave that was predicted to last through the weekend.

In Birmingham, police said they were beginning "Operation Welfare Check," with officers looking in on elderly and sick people at the request of relatives and friends. Several cities opened recreation centers and other air-conditioned buildings to residents who couldn't get out of the heat otherwise.

"Service is a major part of our job and we want to ensure our citizens remain safe during the excessive heat outbreak," said Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper. "Although we perform welfare checks on a regular basis, we must increase our efforts during this critical time."

With cooling units working overtime to keep homes and businesses livable, the city of Scottsboro's power board asked utility customers to conserve electricity by curtailing unneeded uses of electricity. In northwest Alabama, at least five small water authorities asked residents to cut back on usage.

Health officials warned people not to stay outdoors too long, and to stay hydrated if coming inside wasn't possible.

With no rain in the forecast, the U.S. Drought Monitor website said about 89 percent of the state's acreage was either abnormally dry or in a drought, up from about 57 percent experiencing arid conditions last week. The situation is the worst in southeast Alabama, where all or parts of 16 counties are in either an extreme or exceptional drought.

Only southwest Alabama and a sliver of four counties in northeast Alabama are free from unusually dry conditions, according to Drought Monitor, which is maintained by the National Climatic Data Center.

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