Home Posts As Wildfire Dangers Rise, A Historic Heat Wave Blasts The Northwest.
As Wildfire Dangers Rise, A Historic Heat Wave Blasts The Northwest.

As Wildfire Dangers Rise, A Historic Heat Wave Blasts The Northwest.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Pacific Northwest sweltered Friday and braced for even hotter weather over the weekend as a historic heat wave swept through Washington and Oregon, with temperatures in many areas expected to reach up to 30 degrees above normal.

The extreme and dangerous heat was expected to break all-time records in cities and towns ranging from eastern Washington state to Portland to southern Oregon, raising fears of wildfires in a region already suffering from a crippling and prolonged drought.

The temperature in Seattle was expected to rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) over the weekend, and in Portland, Oregon, the thermometer was expected to rise to 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celsius) by Sunday, breaking an all-time record of 107 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celsius) set in 1981. The unusually hot weather was expected to last into next week for much of the region.

According to the National Weather Service, Seattle has only reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit three times in recorded history, and it was possible that it would break the record of 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius) on Monday.

“If you’re keeping a written list of the records that will fall, you may need a few pages by early next week,” NWS Seattle tweeted, noting that the city had already tied a record for the highest morning-low temperature on Friday.

The extreme heat comes just a week after an intermountain West heat wave set records from Montana to Arizona.

The Northwest heat wave sent residents scrambling in a region accustomed to mild summers where many people do not have air conditioning. Stores sold out of portable air conditioners and fans, some hospitals canceled outdoor vaccination clinics, cities opened cooling centers, baseball teams canceled or rescheduled weekend games, and utilities braced for possible power outages.

In response to the heat, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee lifted COVID-19 capacity restrictions on publicly owned or operated and non-profit cooling centers, limiting capacity to 50% until the state reopens fully next Wednesday. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown suspended capacity limits for movie theaters and shopping malls with air conditioning, as well as swimming pools, ahead of a stat deadline.

According to US Census Bureau data from 2019, Seattle has the lowest rate of air-conditioned homes of any major American city, with only 44% of homes in the metro area having air conditioning, compared to 79% in the Portland metro area.

A dozen people waited outside a Seattle hardware store before it opened, hoping to snag an air conditioning unit, but when the door opened at 8 a.m., the worker announced that there were only three units available.

Sarah O'Sell, who was worried about her cat in the face of triple-digit temperatures, was one of the lucky purchasers.

“Unfortunately, we’re starting to see this year after year,” said O’Sell, who used a dolly to move her new unit to her nearby apartment. “We’re going to be like California, and that’s going to be desert down there, and it’s only going to get hotter.”

The hot weather forecast for the final weekend of the United States Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon, prompted USA Track and Field to reschedule several weekend events to earlier in the day to avoid the peak heat.

To keep people in the stands, the Portland Pickles, the city's semi-professional baseball team, offered weekend tickets for $1.11 — the possible high on Sunday — and families queued in the hot sun for ice cream and a few precious hours at community pools that are still operating with capacity restrictions due to COVID-19.

Sara Stathos, who was selling ice cream from an air-conditioned food truck in Portland, said the business would close for the weekend because the ice cream “basically melts as we hand it to customers” in such hot weather.

“We don't want people getting sick from standing out in the sun,” she explained.

According to Kristie Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington who studies global warming and its effects on public health, the extended "heat dome" was a taste of the future for the Pacific Northwest as climate change reshapes weather patterns globally.


“We know from evidence all over the world that climate change is increasing the frequency, intensity, and duration of heat waves; we'll have to get used to this going forward; temperatures are rising, and extreme temperatures are rising even faster,” she said.

“I tell my students that when they're as old as I am, they'll look back and remember how nice summers used to be.”

The heat is also a concern for the region because warm air sucks moisture out of the soil and vegetation more efficiently than cooler air, making everything more prone to fire, according to her.

Last fall, an unusually intense wildfire season devastated Oregon, destroying approximately 1 million acres (404,685 hectares), destroying over 4,000 homes, and killing nine people. Several fires are already burning throughout the Pacific Northwest, and much of the region is already in extreme or exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Firefighters were stationed ahead of time in high-risk areas, and counties and cities throughout the region enacted burn bans, with some even temporarily prohibiting personal fireworks over the July 4 holiday weekend.

Cline is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Valdes reported from Seattle, and Associated Press writers Gillian Flaccus in Portland and Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Washington, also contributed.

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