PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Scorching heat in the Pacific Northwest is expected to last longer than forecasters initially predicted, setting parts of the normally temperate region on course to break records for the longest heat wave.
“We’ve improved the forecast for the latter part of this week,” said David Bishop, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Portland, Oregon. His office is now forecasting temperatures of up to 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 Celsius) for Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Portland already reached 102 F (38.9 C) on Tuesday, a new daily record, prompting the National Weather Service to extend an excessive heat warning for the city from Thursday into Saturday evening.
Seattle also reported a new record daily high of 94 F (34.4 C) on Tuesday.
The length of the heat wave puts Oregon’s largest city on course to tie its longest streak of six consecutive days with temperatures of 95 F (35 C) or higher.
Climate change is causing longer heat waves in the Pacific Northwest, a region where week-long heatwaves have historically been rare, climate experts say.
Heat-related calls to 911 in Portland have tripled in recent days, from about eight on Sunday to 28 on Tuesday, said Dan Douthit, a spokesman for the city’s Bureau of Emergency Management. Most of the calls involved medical assistance, Douthit added.
Multnomah County, which includes Portland, has seen an increase in emergency room visits for heat-related symptoms.
The county said in a statement that emergency room visits “remain elevated as of Sunday.” “In the last three days, 13 people were treated in hospitals for heat illness, when usually two or three are expected.”
People who worked or played sports outside, as well as the elderly, were among those taken to the emergency room, the statement added.
At least two people died of suspected hyperthermia during the heat wave, the Oregon State Medical Examiner said Wednesday. One death occurred in Portland on Monday, the Multnomah County Medical Examiner’s Office said.
The medical examiner’s office said the cause of death is heat-related and could change after further investigation. The official cause of death may not be confirmed until several months later.
Among those working outside the home are those in Portland’s iconic food cart industry. Many food trucks have stopped because the sidewalks are sizzling.
Rico Laverde, chef and owner of the Monster Smash Burgers food cart, said the temperature inside his cart is usually 20 degrees warmer than the temperature outside, making it 120 F (48.9 C) this week.
Laverde said he closes when temperatures rise above 95 F (35 C) because his refrigerators overheat and shut down. Last week, even with slightly cooler temperatures in the mid-90s, Loverde suffered heat stroke while working in his wheelchair for hours, he said.
“It hurts, it definitely hurts. I still pay my employees when we’re closed like that because they have to pay the bills too, but it’s not good for a small business,” he said Tuesday.
Multnomah County said its four emergency overnight cold shelters were half full Tuesday, with 130 people spending the night. But in anticipation of more demand, officials decided to expand the capacity on four sites to accommodate nearly 300 people. The shelter will remain open until at least Friday morning.
William Nonluecha, who lives in a tent in Portland, was seeking shade with friends as temperatures soared Wednesday afternoon. Nonluecha was less than a minute’s walk from a cold storage facility set up by the local government, but didn’t know it was open. He said the heat in his tent was almost unbearable.
His friend Mel Taylor, who was homeless last year but now has temporary housing, said that during last summer’s record-breaking heat, a man in a tent next to him died of heat exhaustion without anyone noticing. He fears the same could happen this summer.
“He had been in his tent for about a week and they could tell by the smell that he was dead,” Taylor said. “It’s sad.”
Residents and officials in the Northwest are trying to adjust to longer heat waves that followed last summer’s deadly “heat dome” that caused record temperatures and deaths.
About 800 people died in the states of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia during the 2021 heat wave that hit in late June and early July. At the time, temperatures in Portland soared to an all-time high of 116 F (46.7 C) and broke temperature records for cities and towns across the region. Many of those who died were elderly and lived alone.
In other regions of the United States, temperatures often reach 100 degrees. But in regions like the Pacific Northwest, people aren’t as used to the heat and are more susceptible to it, said Craig Crandall, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
“People in areas like the Northwest are at a much higher risk of heat-related injury and death,” Crandall said.
Crandall said people who are constantly exposed to heat have certain body adaptations that allow them to cool down more efficiently. The main reaction of addiction is an increase in the amount of sweat that is released from the sweat glands.
“The combination of the lack of air conditioning, the lack of exposure to heat and the lack of such facilities” could put people in the northwest at greater risk during heat waves compared to warmer parts of the country, he said.
Portland authorities opened cooling centers in public buildings and installed fog stations in parks. TriMet, which operates public transit in the Portland metro area, is offering free rides at the cooling center for commuters who can’t afford to pay.
Officials in Seattle and Portland issued air quality advisories on Tuesday that are expected to be in effect through Saturday.
Further south, the National Weather Service issued a heat advisory Wednesday for western Nevada and northeastern California that will last from late Thursday morning through Saturday night. Across the region, record high daytime temperatures will range from 99 to 104 degrees F (37.22 to 40 C).
AP reporter Jillian Flakkus and AP photographer Craig Mitchelldyer contributed from Portland, Oregon, and AP reporter Gabe Stern reported from Carson City, Nevada.
Claire Rush is a staff member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Reporting for America is a nonprofit national outreach program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover underreported issues. Follow her Twitter.
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