Pacific Northwest braces for new multi-day heat wave

Multnomah County volunteers and staff unload cases of water to supply a 24-hour cooling center in Portland, Ore. On Wednesday, August 11, 2021, as a dangerous heat wave grips the Pacific Northwest.

Gillian Flaccus / AP

Residents of the Pacific Northwest braced for another major multi-day heat wave starting Wednesday, just over a month after record temperatures killed hundreds of the region’s most vulnerable people when temperatures soared to 116 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a “worst-case scenario”, the temperature could reach 111 ° F in parts of western Oregon by Friday before a weekend chill, the National Weather Service of Portland, Oregon warned this week. . Temperatures are more likely to exceed 100 F for three consecutive days, peaking at around 105 F on Thursday.

These are staggering numbers in a generally temperate region and they would break all-time records if the heat wave in late June hadn’t already done so, meteorologist Tyler Kranz said. Seattle will be cooler than Portland, with temperatures in the mid-90s, but it still has a record-breaking chance, and a lot of people there, like Oregon, don’t have air conditioning.

“We will often hear people say, ‘What if it’s 106 or 108? It’s so hot in Arizona all the time. Well, people in Arizona have air conditioning, and here in the Pacific Northwest a lot of people don’t, ”Kranz said. “You can’t really compare us to the desert in the Southwest.”

Governor Kate Brown declared a state of emergency due to the heat and activated an emergency operations center, citing the potential for disruption to the electricity grid and transportation. City and county governments are opening cooling centers and misting stations in public buildings, extending the opening hours of public libraries, and removing bus fees for those heading to cooling centers. A statewide helpline will direct callers to the nearest cooling shelter and offer advice on how to stay safe.

Portland emergency officials sent an alert to all landlines on their system on Wednesday, and those who had opted for public alerts on their cellphones received a text message, said Dan Douthit, spokesperson for the Portland Bureau. of Emergency Management.

“We don’t know exactly how hot it will be, but we predict the worst-case scenario,” he said.

The back-to-back heatwaves, coupled with an unusually hot and dry summer overall, hit an area where summer highs typically drift into the 1970s or 1980s. The heat and historic drought in the American West reflects climate change which makes the weather conditions more extreme in the historically temperate region.

The June heat in Oregon, Washington State and British Columbia killed hundreds and set off a wake-up call. This was virtually impossible without human-caused climate change, according to scientific analysis.

In Oregon, authorities say at least 83 people have died from heat-related illnesses, and the hot weather is being investigated as a possible cause of 33 more deaths. Washington state has reported more than 100 heat deaths, and officials in British Columbia say hundreds of “sudden and unexpected deaths” were likely due to soaring temperatures.

The toll revealed huge blind spots in contingency planning in an area unaccustomed to dealing with such high temperatures, said Vivek Shandas, professor of climate adaptation at Portland State University.

Most of those who died in Oregon were older, homebound and socially isolated, and many were unable or unwilling to visit cooling centers.

The call center designed to provide information on cooling centers was unmanned during part of the heat spike, and hundreds of callers were left stranded in a voicemail menu that did not include a prompt. heat-related help. Portland’s famous light rail also closed to reduce strain on the power grid, eliminating a transportation option for low-income residents seeking relief.

“We knew a week in advance. What if we knew an earthquake was going to hit us a week in advance? Shandas said. “This is the kind of thinking we need to be aligned with.”

Yet even the youngest residents battled the heat in June and dreaded the sweltering temperatures this week.

Katherine Morgan, 27, has no air conditioning in her third-floor apartment and can’t afford a window with the money she earns working in a bookstore and as a hostess in a brewery.

She estimated that he had reached 112 F in his apartment in June. She tried to stay cool by taking cold showers, splashing water on her hair, eating popsicles, and standing still in front of a fan for hours.

Morgan, who does not have a car, fell ill from the heat after walking 20 minutes to work in the temperature of 106 F. She took the next two days off rather than starting over. The heat from the sidewalk, she said, made it look like she was “stinging my ankles.”

This week, she will have to walk to work on Thursday, when temperatures could once again climb just as high.

“All of my friends and I knew climate change was real, but it’s getting really scary because it was getting progressively hot – and it was suddenly really hot, really fast,” Morgan said.

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Follow Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus.

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