North West heatwaves under ‘uncomfortable’ multi-day heat wave
In the sweltering heat, Matthew Carr spent his lunch break at a fountain in downtown Portland, Oregon. The 57-year-old works outside collecting rubbish for the city and had to find a way to cool off.
“It’s pretty hot,” Carr said. “I can just take my uniform off, jump in with my shorts on for my break and hang around for a good 10 or 15 minutes.”
Temperatures soared to 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 degrees Celsius) in Oregon’s largest city on Tuesday in what is expected to be the hottest day of a scorching spell that will be unusually long for this part of the United States. United. It was also a new daily record for the city on July 26, surpassing the previous mark set in 2020.
Seattle also reported a new daily high of 94 F (34.4 C), breaking the previous high of 92 F (33.3 C) from 2018, according to the National Weather Service.
Elsewhere in Washington state, record daily temperatures were also recorded in Bellingham and the capital Olympia, which saw 90 F (32.2 C) and 97 F (36.1 C) respectively.
Oregon health officials said there has been an increase in the number of people reporting heat-related illnesses to emergency departments and the number of people calling emergency department numbers for similar symptoms.
“Daily heat-related illness visits are above expected levels statewide,” said Jonathan Modie, communications manager for the Oregon Health Authority’s Division of Public Health. He said there were 32 such visits to the emergency room on Monday, up from three to five a day before the heatwave began.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown has declared a state of emergency across much of the state, warning extreme temperatures could lead to utility outages and transportation disruptions.
“With many areas of Oregon facing a severe heat wave, it is critical that every level of government has the resources it needs to help keep Oregonians safe and healthy,” said Brown said in a statement.
Portland officials have opened cooling centers in public buildings and installed misting stations in parks. TriMet, which operates public transportation in the Portland metro area, will allow passengers who cannot afford to travel for free when heading to cooling centers.
Most Portland garbage companies began pickups earlier Tuesday morning, as early as 4 a.m. to reduce drivers’ exposure to heat and health risks. The first rounds will likely continue until Friday morning.
Multnomah County, which includes Portland, plans to open four overnight emergency cooling shelters starting Tuesday evening so people who cannot cool themselves can stay overnight. The locations can accommodate a total of 245 guests, Multnomah County spokeswoman Kate Yeiser said.
“We will find space for anyone who needs it,” Yeiser said, adding that the sites have a “no return policy.” She said the county may open an additional overnight center on Wednesday if there is high demand.
Many libraries are extending their opening hours, staying open until 8 or 9 p.m. to give people more time to refresh themselves.
As the northwestern United States warmed, the heat wave on the east coast appeared to have broken, with some areas east of the Mississippi River subject to heat advisories on Tuesday.
Philadelphia hit 99 degrees (37 degrees Celsius) on Sunday before accounting for humidity. Newark, New Jersey, has scored five consecutive days of 100 degrees or higher, the longest such streak since records began in 1931. Boston also hit 100 degrees, surpassing the previous daily record of 98 degrees (36.6 Celsius) established in 1933.
Highs peaked in the 80s in New York and Boston on Tuesday.
Residents and officials in the North West have been trying to adjust to the likely reality of longer, hotter heat waves after last summer’s deadly ‘heat dome’ weather phenomenon brought record high temperatures and deaths.
In response, Oregon passed a law requiring all new homes built after April 2024 to have air conditioning installed in at least one room. The law already prohibits landlords, in most cases, from preventing tenants from installing cooling devices in their rental units.
About 800 people died in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia during the 2021 heat wave in late June and early July. The temperature at the time hit a record high of 116 degrees F (46.7 C) in Portland and broke heat records in cities and towns across the region. Many of those who died were elderly and lived alone.
While temperatures are not expected to reach this week this week, the expected number of consecutive hot days has raised concerns among officials.
The National Weather Service has issued an extreme heat warning for large swaths of Oregon and Washington state, including Portland and Seattle, over concerns that nighttime temperatures will help residents cool down enough.
“The main reason for this warning is that these low temperatures only reach 65 to 70 degrees and this is such a long-lasting event,” said Colby Neuman, meteorologist with the National Weather Service at Portland.
Portland appears to be on track to “match or surpass” previous heat wave duration records, Neuman said. The record stands for six consecutive days of 95 degrees (35C) or higher, which has only been reached twice before.
Seattle and Portland officials issued air quality advisories Tuesday through Saturday, warning that smog could reach levels that could be unhealthy for sensitive groups.
Cooling sites are open in Seattle, Greater King County and Western Washington.
In Portland, an emergency cooling shelter provided relief on Tuesday to Rory Lidster, a homeless veteran who described the heat as “uncomfortable.”
“I think these cooling shelters are a really good thing, the old people really need them and everybody really needs them in this kind of heat,” Lidster said.
The 55-year-old said he had been living in a tent on the street for two weeks. He described calling shelters every morning only to find no free places. Now he will be able to spend the night at the emergency cooling site, where he hopes to stay “a little while”.
“As long as we can, I’ll be here,” Lidster said.
AP photographer Craig Mitchelldyer contributed. Lisa Baumann contributed from Bellingham, Washington.
Claire Rush is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow her on Twitter.