US Pacific north-west braces for ‘unprecedented’ sweltering heatwave
The Pacific north-west is gearing up for a potentially record-setting heatwave this weekend and into next week, with temperatures in some areas expected to heat up to the triple digits and beyond.
The blazing heat is highly unusual in a region typically known for its moderate climate.
“It’s going to be unprecedented,” said Nick Bond, a Washington state climatologist. “Probably both in terms of the maximum temperatures that are reached, especially Sunday and Monday, the minimum temperatures that are going to occur for a few nights like that, and then the duration of extremely high temperatures.”
Last week, the National Weather Service issued excessive heat warnings for Washington, Oregon and Idaho. In a statement Friday, the agency cautioned that “the hot daytime temperatures, combined with warm overnight lows, will result in high heat risk and heat related stress.”
All three states could surpass their all-time heat record for June (113F for Washington and Oregon, and 114F for Idaho), according to the National Weather Service.
The scorcher is the result of a high pressure system just north of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, explained Larry O’Neill, Oregon’s state climatologist. The result will be hot air being forced over the Cascade mountains and blowing down until it encompasses the region.
At the same time, Bond explained, it’s made even worse by the gradual rise in temperatures due to global heating.
“That rise in the baseline has meant that just when you get these kinds of events, they’re a little bit more severe as a result,” he said.
In Seattle, known for its rain and overcast days, where only one-third of households have air conditioning, according to a 2015 report, the National Weather Service reported temperatures could reach 103F on Sunday and 106F Monday.
That would exceed the city’s all-time record high of 103F and is expected to hit at least a week before the region typically begins to see any type of extremely high temperatures. But it would also mark only the third time Seattle has met or exceeded 100F since the Sea–Tac airport started documenting conditions in the 1940’s, according to Bond.
There are also concerns that high temperatures will linger through the night, leaving little time to cool off before the cycle starts again. The low on Sunday night in Seattle is only expected to dip to 72 degrees, which would exceed the all-time high for minimum night-time temperatures.
In a statement released Monday, Seattle’s mayor, Jenny Durkan, recommended residents “drink plenty of water, reduce strenuous outdoor activities, check on neighbors and those at risk for heat-related illness, and don’t leave any pets in the car.”
Areas outside Seattle are expected to become even hotter, with parts of the Columbia basin in south-eastern Washington, including the Tri-Cities, set to potentially reach 115F.
Officials across these states have started opening facilities for some of the 13 million residents to go to cool down, including libraries, senior centers and community centers, while also making pools available.
In Oregon, at least two-thirds of the state could experience an unprecedented amount of heat over the next few days. While Pendleton, in north-eastern Oregon, could end up tying its all-time record of 110F two days in a row, Portland could hit 109F – breaking its all-time high of 107F.
Experts recommend taking precautions such as drinking lots of water, taking breaks in places with air conditioning, using fans and making good use of slightly cooler temperatures at night.
“This is life-threatening heat,” Dr Jennifer Vines, a health officer for Multnomah county, which includes Portland, said in a statement Wednesday. “People need to find someplace cool to spend time during the coming days. And for people who already have somewhere cool, their job is to reach out to other people. Ask them to join you, or help them get to a place that is reasonably cool.”
The extreme heat follows another brutal heatwave that recently hit the US south-west, sending temperatures in Arizona, Nevada and California soaring up to 120F.
Idaho is also expected to see days of extremely high temperatures this weekend and next week. Boise could reach 107F Thursday – just a few degrees cooler than its all-time record high. Baker, in southern Idaho, could also just miss surpassing its all-time high of 109F, with temperatures expected to hit 104F Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service forecast.Although this is considered an unusual weather event, O’Neill said it’s clear it won’t be the last.
He said it’s time for the region to start rethinking its systems in place for dealing with these types of extreme weather events, whether that be expanding cooling centers, especially for homeless people, re-examining heat thresholds for outdoor work, or making sure to have enough medical services for heat-related emergencies.
“A lot of the climate model projections suggest that we’ll see more extreme heat events like this,” he said. “So this is something that we can expect into the future, and possibly more frequent.”