Unprecedented heat wave in the Pacific Northwest driven by climate change
A scorching heat wave erased high temperature records in Oregon and Washington over the weekend, raising the risk of deaths and fires and underscoring the dangers of climate change.
Portland, Oregon’s largest city, hit an all-time high of 112 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday at its international airport, the National Weather Service said. This broke a record of 108 F set just a day earlier. The two days surpassed the previous record of 107 F, reached in 1981 and 1965.
The temperature in Salem, the capital of Oregon, soared to 113 F yesterday, breaking a record 108 F in 1941 and 1927.
The heat is expected to worsen today, with a breathtaking forecast of 115 F for Portland, said Colby Neuman, a meteorologist in the Portland office of the NWS.
“I haven’t seen a lot of events where places break their record temperature records of 4 degrees or 5 degrees,” said Neuman, who has worked at the NWS since 2008. “It’s one thing to beat them to a degree or two, but it’s another thing to literally break it 4 or 5 degrees, in places that have 100 years of data, or 120 years of data.
Further north, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport hit 104 F yesterday, a new all-time high that surpassed the previous region record of 103 F, set in 2009.
Even the baked beaches. Hoquiam, Washington, on the state’s west coast, hit 102 F. This shattered the previous record of 95 F set in 2016.
Predictions for today are that Seattle, the largest and most populous city in Washington, will hit 110F.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Dustin Guy, a meteorologist at the NWS office in Seattle. “We’ve only had three days of 100 degrees or more in 126 years, and it looks like we’re ready to get three in a row now. There’s really nothing to compare. We never have. nothing like this in our life in Seattle. “
The sweltering weather, which is expected to cool slightly tomorrow, appears to be part of a larger trend in climate change. The average temperature of the Pacific Northwest has warmed by more than 2 ° F from a century ago, with most of these changes occurring over the past 40 years. Also, the number of extreme hot days has doubled in less than a century, and it probably won’t stop there, said Larry O’Neill, Oregon state climatologist.
In 1940, he said, Portland only had about 10 days a year when the daily high temperature exceeded 90 F.
“By 2020, that number is around 20 days a year,” O’Neill said. In Multnomah County, where Portland is located, “the predicted change, by mid-century (…) is an additional 20 days (per year) with temperatures above 90 degrees,” he said. he declares.
These highs may not feel extreme compared to those in places where summer days typically exceed 90 ° F, often accompanied by high humidity. But residents of the Pacific Northwest are used to a temperate climate and many homes lack air conditioning, several weather experts have said. This makes the heat wave potentially fatal.
“People in the Northwest, you know there’s a lot of vulnerability because… it’s just outside of our normal operating range,” O’Neill said. “People are going to be exhausted or have heat stroke,” he added, and they may not be familiar with these symptoms. “Then they will get sick and won’t know why.”
“Our health care system, too, is not necessarily designed to cope with large numbers of people who experience heat stroke,” he added, “or fall ill or have sub-health problems. underlying which are exacerbated by this. “
The Pacific Northwest roast follows other June heatwaves in the West. Between June 10 and June 15, high temperatures set records in parts of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, Tom Di wrote. Liberto, of the NOAA Climate Program Office, in an article posted on the NOAA website.
“It is always difficult to immediately quantify the impact of climate change on an extreme climate, but there is ample evidence showing that high temperatures and heat waves have worsened due to climate change,” he wrote. “Heat waves across the contiguous United States have occurred more often and lasted longer since the 1960s, which is consistent with global warming due to climate change. “
Record hot lows overnight
The problem is not limited to record temperatures. During the heatwave, the Pacific Northwest did not cool much overnight, a dangerous situation. When that happens, opening windows doesn’t help homes cool off much, heat experts have said. And people’s bodies don’t have a chance to calm down and recover.
“It’s potentially fatal heat,” Multnomah County health officer Dr Jennifer Vines said in an article posted on the county’s website. “People need to find a cool place to hang out over the next few days. And for people who already have a cool place, their job is to reach out to others.
The overnight low at Portland International Airport touched down at 73 F yesterday morning. This broke the previous record for “hot minimum” of 71 F, set in 2015.
Temperatures fell to a low of 73 F at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport early yesterday. This broke the previous “low” of 71 F established in 2009.
This new record could be exploded today, based on the low temperature forecast today.
“We’re expecting lows of around … 75 Monday morning, so we’ll probably be looking at possible all-time record lows,” said Guy, meteorologist at NWS Seattle.
The high temperatures are the result of a high pressure system over Oregon and Washington. Climate change has played a role in this system, said O’Neill, a state of Oregon climatologist.
One of the mechanisms for forming a high pressure system is tropical cyclone activity in the western Pacific Ocean, he said. These are the equivalent of hurricanes on the west coast. And like hurricanes, they are reinforced by warmer ocean temperatures.
High pressure systems like the one that causes the Pacific Northwest heat wave are “about three times more likely to happen when we have a tropical cyclone in the Pacific,” he said. “Climate change therefore has an impact on tropical cyclone activity through the modulation of sea surface temperatures, as well as factors such as wind shear.”
Increased risk of fire
The heat wave is expected to increase the risk of fire by drying out vegetation, said Jim Critchley, fire chief for the Pendleton Fire Department in Umatilla County, about 200 miles east of Portland.
“It could be so dry that the sparks from your car, from your catalytic converter, from a tow chain, any of those things, mowing your yard or your fields can create a spark that can then ignite all of them. fuels we have, ”Critchley said.
He sent crews who scoured the area asking residents to clear at least 30 feet from buildings to “give firefighters a chance to save property or people, if we have this space we can protect,” said Critchley.
The fact that this heat wave hits in June means the rest of the summer could be a challenge, he said. Critchley noted that July 4th is coming this weekend, and “everyone loves their July 4th fireworks. Everyone except the fire chiefs.
Utilities officials in both states said they were not immediately planning intentional power cuts to reduce the risk of fire, a technique that began in California and is now in use in several western states, including ‘Oregon and Nevada.
Portland General Electric “has no plans to call a power outage for public safety in the next few days,” said Brittany Gonzalez, public service spokeswoman, in an email. “If extreme weather conditions threaten our ability to operate the electricity grid safely, we will shut off the power to help protect public safety. “
The utility first used an intentional power cut in September 2020, during wildfires in Oregon and California. It reached approximately 5,000 clients located near Mount Hood.
Spokesmen for utilities in both states said they were prepared for additional demand for electricity. Andrew Padula, spokesperson for Puget Sound Energy in Washington, said in an email that “we plan to meet all of the demand with the generating assets owned by PSE. We have an additional 200 MW in reserve, which is 100 MW (more) than usual.
Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides essential information for energy and environment professionals.