PORTLAND, OR- An early heatwave hit parts of the Pacific Northwest on Saturday. Temperatures were near or surpassing records in some areas and heat warnings were in effect through Monday.
The historically temperate region has grappled with scorching summer temperatures and unprecedented wildfires fueled by climate change in recent years.
The National Weather Service issued a heat warning that will apply Saturday through Monday for much of western Oregon and Washington. It says the temperatures could increase the risk of heat-related illnesses, particularly for those who are dehydrated or don’t have effective cooling.
Temperatures in the 32°C (90°F) range were expected in Portland, Oregon over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service. The temperature at Portland International Airport reached 93 F (33.9 C) Saturday, breaking a record 92 F (33.3 C) set in 1973, according to the Portland office of the National Weather Service. The agency said temperatures could warm up a bit more before the day is over. By late afternoon, several Oregon communities had hit previous record highs.
The temperature at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was 84 F Saturday afternoon, with warmer temperatures expected in the area on Sunday, said Trent Davis, weather forecaster with the Seattle Weather Service. The record temperature at the airport on Saturday was 29.4 °C (85 °F), a mark last reached in 2018. It could hit 90°F (32°C) at that location on Sunday, he said.
The unusually high temperatures could further fuel the dozens of fires in Canada’s western province of Alberta, where officials have ordered evacuations and declared a state of emergency. Residents and officials in the North West have been trying to brace for the likely reality of prolonged, hotter heat waves following the deadly 2021 “Heat Dome” weather phenomenon, which sent record temperatures and deaths across the region.
Elizabeth Romero and her three children were among those cooling off at a fountain in downtown Portland on Friday afternoon.
“We decided to stop by … until we’re all better,” she said, adding that she plans to hit shady parks over the weekend.
King County, home of Seattle, ordered transportation companies like bus drivers to let people ride for free when they want to recover from the heat or go to a refrigeration center. The county’s regional homelessness agency said several refrigerated and day care centers are opening across the county.
Authorities also urged people to beware of cold water temperatures if they were tempted to swim in the river or lake to cool off. River temperatures are likely to be in the low to mid 40C (4.4 to 7.2C), National Weather Service meteorologist Higa said.
Residents and officials in the Pacific Northwest have become more vigilant about heatwave preparations after about 800 people died in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia during the heat dome weather event in late June and early July 2021-time high of 116 F (46.7 C) in Portland and breaking heat records in cities and towns across the region. Many of those who died were elderly people living alone.
In response, Oregon passed a law requiring all new homes built after April 2024 to install air conditioning in at least one room. The law already prohibits landlords from banning tenants from installing cooling equipment in their rental units in most cases.
Last summer, Portland launched a heat protection program with the goal of installing portable heat pumps and cooling units in low-income homes, with priority given to elderly and single residents, as well as those with pre-existing conditions. According to the city’s Office of Planning and Sustainability, local nonprofits participating in the program installed more than 3,000 units in the past year.
Officials in Multnomah County, home of Portland, said they have no plans to open dedicated refrigeration centers for the time being, but would be monitoring the forecast and can do so if necessary.
“This is the first significant event … and it’s early days for us,” said Chris Voss, the county’s director of emergency management. “We don’t see a situation where we hear that this is extremely dangerous. However, we don’t know if it will drift.”
Associated Press writers Ed Komenda in Seattle and Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, contributed to this report.
Claire Rush 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 cover undercover topics.