Today is predicted to be one of the hottest days on record in the Northwest United States and western Canada. After a sweltering and record-breaking few days, with temperatures as high as 112 degrees Fahrenheit in Portland and 108 degrees Fahrenheit in Seattle, thermometers are forecast to crawl even higher today, with temperatures occasionally surpassing 30 degrees over the usual daily temperature. The extreme heat in the area has prompted some experts to conclude that this is the region’s most severe heatwave ever recorded by mankind.
Bob Henson, a meteorologist, tweeted, “Multiple models have been going wild with this one.” “Official forecasts are now just as stunning.”
Due to the extreme heat, pandemic-related capacity limitations have been lifted at swimming pools, movie theatres, shopping malls, cooling centers, and public transportation across Oregon, ensuring that people have access to air conditioning and other locations to cool down. Air conditioning in houses isn’t popular in some of the hardest-hit areas of the country; in Seattle, just 44% of households have air conditioning.
Enhanced temperatures are predicted to surge throughout the night, with abnormally high nighttime lows that can be lethal, on top of a low rate of air-conditioned houses and a huge population of people without shelter.
The Portland Bureau of Issue Management’s Dan Douthit told the Wall Street Journal, “We’ve never experienced this sort of heat for so many days, it’s a public health emergency.” However, heat waves of this nature may become more prevalent in the future. Over a third of heat-related deaths, according to research released last month, are linked to climate change.
Agriculture is also taking the brunt of the heat. Strawberry farms are drying up, and vulnerable salmon species are being exposed to warm, toxic water.
A heat dome—a high-pressure system that hovers on top of a region, trapping more heat and warming it up faster—is primarily to blame for the wacky weather (think putting a lid on a pot of boiling water). Due to the same heat dome that has now migrated north, the Southwestern United States saw record-breaking temperatures earlier this month.
“It’s the same high-pressure system that’s been parked over the West for a while; it simply shifts north and south or east and west. Andrea Bair, the climate services program manager for the National Weather Service’s western area, told National Geographic that it “moves, strengthens, then weakens.”
More heatwaves like this one are inevitable, owing to a changing climate that will only get worse in the coming years—something that scientists are concerned about, especially in traditionally cooler parts of the US. Furthermore, even in the same cities, low-income neighborhoods with less tree cover risk much deadlier consequences than their richer counterparts.
Vivek Shandas, a professor of climate adaptation and urban development at Portland State University, told CNN, “Unfortunately, we’re not well-prepared, generally speaking, in the Pacific Northwest, for heat.” “During the winter, our [power] grids are heavily strained for heating purposes, but in the summer, there is a lot less capacity in the grid to handle some of the big demands on cooling facilities that are required,” Shandas told CNN that until last week, he didn’t have an air conditioner in his house.
According to Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, the Western half of the United States is still experiencing extraordinary droughts on top of extremely warm days, creating a feedback loop. “On top of the linear rising trend, you have this self-reinforcing cycle of heatwaves and droughts that are being exacerbated by climate change,” he added.
Hot days in mild-weather areas may seem scary and record-breaking right now, but they will only become more regular overtime.