Historic heat wave hits northwest as wildfire risks soar
PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) – The Pacific Northwest suffocated Friday and braced for even warmer weather throughout the weekend as a historic heat wave hit Washington and Oregon, with temperatures in many areas expected to reach 30 degrees above normal.
The extreme and potentially dangerous heat is expected to break all-time records in towns and cities from eastern Washington to Portland to southern Oregon, as concerns grow about the risk of forest fire in an area already experiencing crippling and prolonged drought.
Seattle is expected to exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) over the weekend and in Portland, Ore., Meteorologists said the thermometer could rise to 108 F (42 C) by Sunday, breaking an all-time high of 107 F (42 C) established in 1981. Exceptionally warm weather was expected to continue into the next week over much of the region.
Seattle only hit 100 F three times in recorded history, the National Weather Service said, and there was a chance it could eclipse the record 103 F (39 C) on Monday.
“If you keep a written list of the records that will fall, you might need a few pages by the start of next week,” NWS Seattle tweeted, announcing that the city had already tied a record for the most on Friday. low in the morning. Temperature.
The extremely hot weather comes a week after a heat wave in the Intermountain West broke records from Montana to Arizona.
The Northwest heat wave sent residents scrambling to an area accustomed to balmy summers where many people lack air conditioning. Stores have sold portable air conditioners and fans, some hospitals have canceled outdoor vaccination clinics, cities have opened cooling centers, baseball teams have canceled or moved weekend games and utilities prepared for possible power outages.
According to 2019 figures from the US Census Bureau, Seattle has the lowest rate of air-conditioned homes of any major US city. Only 44% of homes in the metropolitan area are air conditioned. In the Portland metropolitan area, that figure was 79%.
At a Seattle hardware store, a dozen people lined up before opening in hopes of grabbing an air conditioning unit. A worker opened the door at 8 a.m. with bad news: there were only three units.
One of the lucky buyers was Sarah O’Sell, who worried about her cat amid triple-digit predictions.
“Unfortunately, we start to see this year after year,” said O’Sell, who used a cart to transport his new unit to his apartment next door. “We’re going to be like California and it’s going to be the wilderness over there. It will only heat up. “
The sweltering temperatures expected on the last weekend of the US Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore. Also prompted USA Track and Field to reschedule several weekend events to hours earlier in the day to avoid peak heat. The Portland Pickles, the city’s semi-professional baseball team, offered $ 1.11 weekend tickets – the highest possible on Sunday – to keep people in the stands.
The extended “thermal dome” was a taste of the future for the Pacific Northwest as climate change reshapes the world’s weather, said Kristie Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington who studies the global warming and its effects on public health.
“We know from evidence around the world that climate change is increasing the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves. You will have to get used to this in the future. Temperatures are rising and temperature extremes are rising even faster, ”she said.
“I tell my students that they will be as old as I am, that they will look back and think how nice the summers were. ”
The heat is also worrying for the region as the warm air sucks moisture from the soil and vegetation more efficiently than the cooler air and this makes everything more prone to fires, she said.
Oregon in particular was devastated by an unusually intense wildfire season last fall that burned an estimated 1 million acres (404,685 hectares), burned more than 4,000 homes and killed nine people. Several fires are already burning around the Pacific Northwest and much of the region is already experiencing extreme or exceptional drought, according to the US Drought Monitor.
Fire crews were positioned in advance in areas of high fire risk, and counties and towns in the region enacted burning bans – in some cases even temporarily banning personal fireworks. for the bank holiday weekend of July 4.
Valdes reported from Seattle.
Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus