PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Utility workers and wildlife managers across the Pacific Northwest were trying to keep people and animals safe Saturday as a historic heat wave scorched the region, toppling records and sending residents searching for relief.
Stores sold out of portable air conditioners and fans, hospitals canceled outdoor vaccination clinics, cities opened cooling centers, baseball teams canceled or moved up weekend games, and utilities braced for possible power outages.
Portland, Oregon, had the hottest day ever recorded — reaching 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42.2 degrees Celsius) Saturday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. The previous record for Oregon’s largest city was 107 F (41.7 C), a mark hit in 1965 and 1981.
Seattle reached 101 F (38.3), making it the hottest June day on record and only the fourth time in recorded history the usually temperate city had topped 100 degrees.
Other cities and towns from eastern Washington state to southern Oregon were also expected to break records, with temperatures in many areas expected to top out up to 30 degrees above normal.
It’s a dangerous forecast for a region accustomed to mild weather, and where many don’t have air conditioning.
James Bryant, a Seattle resident, picked up an air conditioner in anticipation of the extreme heat.
“My house is already hot, and so with the added heat over the next few days, I’ve got kids. I got to make sure they don’t get too hot as well,” Bryant said. “It seems to be a trend … So I’m not sure what’s driving it, but it’s not fun, that’s for sure.”
The hot weather had berry farmers scrambling to pick crops before they rot on the vine and fisheries managers working to keep endangered sockeye salmon safe from too-warm river water.
Officials in Multnomah County, Oregon were asking for volunteers to help staff cooling centers as older people, homeless residents and others struggled with the heat. Cascades Street Outreach, an advocacy group for people experiencing homelessness, was going to homeless camps in the region to encourage people to use the cooling centers.
Peter Tiso, who works with Multnomah County’s Joint office of Homeless Services, told the Oregonian/OregonLive.com that the Oregon Convention Center can hold about 300 people, but no one will be turned away from the cooling shelter. The shelter also allows pets, he said.
“We don’t want anyone to be making the dangerous decision between leaving their pet behind or not,” he said.
Unusually hot weather was expected to extend into next week for much of the region.
Columbia Basin fisheries managers are worried about how the heat wave will affect endangered Snake River sockeye and other species of protected salmon.
State, tribal and federal officials are trying to mitigate rising water temperatures in the lower Snake River, the Lewiston Tribune reported, in part by releasing 42 F (5.56 C) water from Idaho’s Dworshak Reservoir. They began releasing the water earlier this week, hoping to keep the water temperature at the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River at or below 68 F (20 C). Officials fear a repeat of 2015, when water temperatures in Columbia and Snake river reservoirs reached lethal levels for sockeye salmon.
In eastern Washington, berry farmer Jason Morrell said the sun was rapidly drying out his strawberries, leaving them at risk of rotting if they aren’t picked fast. Morrell, the owner of Walters’ Fruit Ranch near Spokane, told television station KREM that normally farmers have about three weeks to get their strawberry crop picked. With Spokane expected to reach 109 F (42.78 C) on Monday, he expects to have just a few days to get the job done.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee lifted COVID-19 capacity restrictions on publicly owned or operated and non-profit cooling centers in light of the heat. Capacity is currently limited to 50% until the state fully reopens next Wednesday. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown suspended capacity limits for movie theaters and shopping malls — places with air-conditioning — as well as swimming pools ahead of a statewide reopening Wednesday.
In Seattle, a few new city lifeguards went through last-minute training at a beach on Lake Washington. Case Berrysmith has been a lead lifeguard for 15 years. This is the hottest stretch he has ever seen.
“Most rescues are going to be over-estimated ability,” Berrysmith said. “Stay safe. Stay hydrated.”
The sweltering temperatures expected on the final weekend of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field trials in Eugene, Oregon, also prompted USA Track and Field to reschedule several weekend events to times earlier in the day to avoid the peak heat.
Roughly 3,000 people signed up to compete in the Ironman race in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on Sunday, when temperatures could reach a record 101 F (38 C). The triathlon includes a 2.4-mile (3.9-km) swim, a 112-mile (180-km) bike ride and a marathon run.
The extended “heat dome” over the Pacific Northwest was a taste of the future as climate change reshapes weather patterns worldwide, said Kristie Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington who studies 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. We’re going to have to get used to this going forward,” she said.
Boone reported from Boise, Idaho Associated Press writers Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Manuel Valdes in Seattle and Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Washington, contributed. Cline is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.