Portland, Ore. – The mayor of Portland, Oregon warned that the Pacific Northwest could see the most dangerous part of an extended heat wave this weekend as Portland and Seattle look on track to break records for extended scorching temperatures.
As the Northwest nears its sixth day of an intensely hot spell, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said the weekend marks a new phase that could pose “the greatest risk to our most vulnerable community members.”
“We are reaching the most critical phase of the emergency this summer,” Wheeler said on Friday.
Temperatures in Portland have hovered near triple digits throughout the week, reaching a high of 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 Celsius) on Tuesday. Forecasters predict that temperatures could once again rise above 100 F (37.8 C) on Saturday.
On Friday, the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s office said it was investigating additional possible heat-related deaths from suspected hyperthermia, bringing the total to five. The deaths were reported in Multnomah County, which is home to Portland, Umatilla County and Marion County in the eastern part of the state, which includes the state capital, Salem.
The deaths occurred on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The state medical examiner’s office said the designation of a heat-related death is preliminary and could change.
The heat wave has lasted longer than initially predicted, prompting Multnomah County to extend an emergency declaration that was due to end Saturday through Monday morning.
“Earlier this week we didn’t anticipate it would be this long or so severe,” said Multnomah County President Deborah Cafoury.
Multnomah County said in a statement that the county’s four emergency overnight cooling shelters were at 70% capacity as of Thursday, with about 220 people spending the night. Kafouri said officials would be “watching very carefully” to see if shelters would need to be open until Sunday night, “which we didn’t originally plan to do.”
Portland will “probably need additional capacity”, said Shad Ahmed, director of the city’s Bureau of Emergency Management, adding that his office is “working to make sure we have the logistics, supplies and staffing needed to address this.” “
The National Weather Service has extended an extreme heat warning for Portland and Seattle until Sunday evening.
On Tuesday, Portland set a daily record of 102 F (38.9 C). Forecasters said the city appears to be on track to tie the record for at least the previous heat wave period, which is currently 95 degrees or warmer for six consecutive days.
“Sunday will break records” if temperatures reach 95 degrees that day, said David Bishop, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Portland.
Seattle also reported a record daily high of 94 F (34.4 C) on Tuesday.
If temperatures rise above 90 F (32.2 C) through Sunday in Seattle, it will be above 90 in six straight days of mercury — something forecasters say has never happened in the city before.
Courtney Lewis and Reilly Griffin were visiting Seattle this week during a hot snap.
“I mean it’s cool, like to help get a tan. But it’s just hot. Too hot,” Griffin said.
Forecasters predict that there will be no respite until Monday when a cool breeze blows from the Pacific Ocean.
Climate change is driving prolonged heat waves in the Pacific Northwest, a region where week-long heat was historically rare, according to climatologists.
Northwest residents and officials are trying to adjust to the potential reality of long, hot heat waves after last summer’s deadly “heat dome” weather event, which prompted record temperatures and deaths.
About 800 people died in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia during that heat wave in late June and early July. Temperatures at the time reached an all-time high of 116 F (46.7 C) in Portland and broke heat records in cities and towns across the region. Many of the dead were old and lived alone.
Andrea Hamberg, interim director of environmental health services at the Multnomah County Health Department in Oregon, said that although the current heat wave would not see such high temperatures, it remains “very severe.”
“This heat event may not seem as severe as the June 2021 heat dome. But in many ways it is,” Hamburg said, warning of a day six and a day seven that “is forecast to get even warmer.”
“To reduce that risk, we are not getting lows overnight, our homes need to cool down and our bodies need to recover,” Hamburg said. Forecasters predict low temperatures in Portland won’t drop below 70 F (21.1 C) on Friday night.
As the heat is prolonged, officials have urged residents to screen those who are at high risk of heat-related illness, such as older people and people living alone.
Hamburg said that during the 2021 heat dome, 78% of those who died in Multnomah County were 60 or older, and 71% lived alone. He said that 94% of the people died in their own homes.
Record heat was also forecast on Friday in northern Nevada, where Reno hit a record-high of 103 F (39.4 C) on Thursday, breaking the old mark of 102 F (38.9 C) in 1971 and 2016. In South Lake Tahoe, Calif., a high of 92 F (33.3 C) on Thursday erased the previous record of 90 F (32.2 C) set in 2016.
Associated Press videographer Manuel Valdes contributed from Seattle.
Claire Rush is a core member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on secret issues. Follow him on Twitter.