Typically mild Pacific north-west braces for another blazing heatwave

Typically mild Pacific north-west braces for another blazing heatwave

Officials urge residents to take precautions as forecasts point to temperatures far above historic averages

woman pushes truck full of water

A searing heatwave is expected to bring dangerously high temperatures to US Pacific north-west – a region known for its mild, temperate summers.

As Oregon, Washington, parts of northern California and British Columbia brace for a week of temperatures well above historic averages, officials are warning residents in the region – many of whom lack air conditioning and are unaccustomed to heat – to take precautions.

Though the forecast falls short of June 2021 “heat dome” that brought temperatures of 116F (46.7C) to Portland, and 118F (47.8C) to other parts of the Pacific north-west, and resulted in more than 600 deaths, local officials say the duration of this heat wave is concerning.

“To have five-day stretches or a week-long stretch above 90 degrees is very, very rare for the Pacific north-west,” said Vivek Shandas, professor of climate adaptation at Portland State University.

The National Weather Service (NWS) has warned that the end of the week will feel worst for many residents. “Residents without air conditioners will experience a buildup of heat within their home through late in the week,” the NWS warned. This “will significantly increase the potential for heat related illnesses”, the NWS warned, especially for outdoor workers.

As the climate crisis fuels longer, more extreme heatwaves, the region that many once considered a climate refuge has found itself once again facing weather it is wholly unprepared for.

Portland, Oregon’s bureau of emergency management is opening cooling centers in public buildings and installing misting stations in parks. Officials hope outreach efforts will help those facing the greatest risk from heat, including people who are older, people who live alone, those with disabilities, low-income households without air conditioning and the unhoused.

“Unfortunately there’s this intersection of our climate crisis and our housing emergency,” said Jonna Papaefthimiou, chief resilience officer for the Portland bureau of emergency management, adding that unhoused people “face the greatest risk from all kinds of severe weather.”

The heatwave will be especially intense in Yakima, Washington, where temperatures between 102F and 107F are expected midweek. Portland is expecting highs in the 90s, topping off at 100F. And Seattle is expected to hit 90F temperatures on four consecutive days this week, according to the NWS.

This heatwave has hit at the tail end of another heatwave in the north-east and the mid-Atlantic last week that put more than 85 million Americans under excessive heat warnings on Sunday. Parts of northern California will also be affected by the high temperatures, all while the Oak fire at the Sierra Nevada foothills forces thousands from their homes. Swathes of the south-west, from Phoenix to Las Vegas, are also under excessive heat warnings. And in the Vancouver area, authorities have warned residents to prepare for a stretch of high heat.

Much of the US saw above-average warmer temperatures in June, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa). Noaa estimates that weather and climate disasters, including tornadoes, hail and extreme drought, have cost at least $9bn in damage across the nation so far this year.

Last year’s deadly heat dome prompted Portland to adapt measures requiring new subsidized housing constructions to have air conditioning and housing built after April 2024 to install air conditioning in at least one room. Portland also launched a heat response program to provide heat pumps and cooling devices to vulnerable residents. It aims to distribute 15,000 units over the next five years.

About 3,000 cooling units have been ordered but only about 750 have been installed so far, according to figures from Earth Advantage, the non-profit overseeing the program’s purchases and logistics. This is partly due to supply chain shortages amid growing demand for air conditioners, according to Jaimes Valdez, the organizational, development and policy manager for the Portland Clean Energy Fund, which oversees the initiative.

“This equipment is in high demand, not just in the region but globally,” said Valdez, citing recent heatwaves in Europe. “We do see a lot of need and this program is ramping up.”