Pacific Northwest Temps Fortell Our Future as the Climate Crisis Burns Hotter

ON 06/30/2021 AT 04:08 AM

Yesterday temperatures which had soared to 108° F (42.2° C) and more in Seattle and Portland, Oregon began to move further east within the Pacific Northwest. It is now triggering unprecedented incidences of heat stroke and the need for power rationing.

High Temperatures Soar in Washington June 2021

A heat dome released unprecedented heat in the Pacific Northwest in the last weekend of June 2021. This image provided by satellite on June 29, 2021. Photo: NASA\'s Earth Observatory

Many had hoped the heat dome which took up residence over much of Oregon and Washington this weekend would break apart and allow cooling winds to take its place. Not only did that not happen, but the situation also appears to be growing worse by the hour.

Multiple cities in the northwestern U.S. hit record temperatures easily 40+ degrees Fahrenheit hotter than usual for the region for this time of the year. Temperature records reached on the weekend included:

Seattle:  104° F (40° C), which capped a stretch of over three days in a row of over 100° F (37.8° C), for the first time in the city’s history.

Portland, Oregon:  112° F (44.4° C.)

The Dalles, Oregon (along the Columbia River, normally a cooler location):  115° F (46.1° C).

That was bad enough. Then Monday additional records were set that were even higher:

Seattle:  108° F (42.2° C).

Portland, Oregon:  116° F (46.7° C)

Salem, Oregon (the state capital):  118° F (47.8° C)

The same day, in Lytton, British Columbia, just above Washington state’s northern border, the temperature reached a high of 118° F (47.8° C). It was the highest temperature ever recorded in all of Canada.

June 2021 USA Map showing Pacific Northwest Heat Wave

Satellite imagery showing the Pacific Northwest heat wave as of June 29, 2021. Photo: NASA Earth Observatory

The atmospheric dome which carried this heat moved slightly inland on June 29. That ended up producing a temperature of 108° F (42.2° C) at Spokane International Airport. As with the high temperatures which had appeared further east over the previous several days, this too set a record as the highest temperature ever recorded in that small eastern Washington city.

Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco were also heading toward record temperatures as of this writing. Predictions by the weather service said those southeastern Washington cities would reach a high of 118° F (47.8° C) soon.

Coming with the temperatures were the dangers of heat stroke. In a region where many do not even have air conditioning to cool off, even just sitting at home quietly was a dangerous proposition. Many farm workers were also sent into the fields regionally to attempt to harvest crops before they would be destroyed by the heat as well. Those who were sent out there were then themselves put at risk from the heat.

That brought the United Farm Workers to ask Washington Governor Jay Inslee to declare an “Emergency Heat Standards” warning in this heavily agricultural state, to protect those workers from having to work non-stop without shade breaks or water.

Many who normally would have worked well until daylight hours had their shift times changed in Washington, just to beat the heat. Walla Walla garbage collectors, for example, were asked to start their shifts at 3 AM rather than 7 AM to avoid overheating.

Portland Streetcar Cables melt in the high temperatures

Power cables in the Portland Streetcar system were melting in the heat this weekend, causing the system to have to be shut down for many hours. Photo: Portland Streetcar, Via Twitter

Another and more unusual problem connected with the heat showed up in Portland, Oregon, over the weekend, when streetcar service had to be suspended because power cables were melting in the heat.

In Seattle and King County where it is located, public health officials said hospitals there had logged 41 emergency department visits tied to the heat on June 26. The next day the number went up to 91.  The previous daily high number of heat-related emergency room visits was only 9. The patients who showed up reported symptoms of vomiting, dizziness, and a condition known as syncope. Syncope manifests as a temporary loss of consciousness when so much water is lost in the human body in the form of sweat that blood pressure drops.

Power demand surged in both Oregon and Washington as well during this time, forcing some power utilities to have to schedule rolling blackouts. In Spokane, 9,300 customers within the Avista Utilities coverage region were forced to be without power for over an hour on June 28, and another 21,000 were expected to have lost power in the same region at some time or another yesterday afternoon.

Though energy management officials had been monitoring the power demand early, the peak demand still surprised them.

“This happened faster than anticipated,” said Avista Utilities company president and chief executive Dennis Vermillion yesterday.

Government officials are concerned the temperatures will take days to drop. Even when they do one serious result of the heat dome will be left behind. It will have dried out forests and croplands of all kinds throughout both Oregon and Washington. That will set up higher likelihood of early and more devastating wildfires as the summer heats up even more in the coming weeks.