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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Washington and Oregon prepare for record-breaking heatwave this weekend

A sense of déjà vu hung in the air as people across Washington and Oregon prepared for scorching temperatures in the midst of the region’s second major heatwave this summer.

With temperatures in cities across the Pacific north-west expected to hit triple digits, excessive heat warnings were in place throughout most of Washington and western Oregon on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

Although the temperatures were not expected to be as severe as they were during the heatwave in late June – some areas exceeded 115F (46C) – several cities could break their heat records.

In Seattle, the temperature was set to reach 96F (36C) on Friday, while the record for that day is only 92F (33C), according to Eric Schoening, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Yakima, in southern Washington, could hit 104F (40C) Friday, 1F higher than the record for that day.

In Beaverton, Oregon, where temperatures could reach 104F Thursday (2F above the daily record) and 102F (39C) on Friday, the Beaverton community center was offering overnight air-conditioned shelter for those in need Wednesday through Saturday.

Both Oregon governor Kate Brown and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler declared a state of emergency earlier in the week due to the extreme heat.

Brown said in a video posted on Twitter Wednesday: “Please treat these hot temperatures seriously. Heat related illnesses are preventable. Please learn the symptoms. If you don’t have air conditioning in your home, make a plan right now to find a cool location you can access.”

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan tweeted Thursday: “Dangerously high temperatures ahead for Seattle.” She included a map of cooling center locations, a list of drinking fountains and advice for staying cool.

Katherine Milton, who is experiencing homelessness, enjoys relief from a homemade cooling station and mist system set up in a front yard during Seattle’s heatwave on 28 June. Photograph: Jason Redmond/Reuters

Seattle officials said they will be monitoring key infrastructure such as power systems, water systems, roadways and bridges, and will be coordinating outreach teams who can help some of the most vulnerable people deal with the high temperatures.

Officials in Washington and Oregon urged residents to stay hydrated, check on loved ones and make use of the dozens of cooling centers at libraries, community centers and other spaces throughout the region.

The heatwave comes mere weeks after record-high temperatures resulted in hundreds of deaths across the US Pacific north-west and western Canada.

Meteorologists reported that the extreme temperatures came from two pressure systems, while a study from World Weather Attribution determined that the heatwave would have been “virtually impossible without human-caused climate change”.

Officials attributed this week’s heatwave to a high-pressure system or heat dome over the north-east Pacific Ocean. It is expected to move to the east at the end of the weekend, according to Schoening.

At the same time, Larry O’Neill, Oregon’s state climatologist, previously told the Guardian: “These sorts of heatwaves are being made worse and more impactful because of climate change.”

Temperatures are expected to peak Friday and Saturday, cool slightly in western Washington and western Oregon on Saturday, and then really start to significantly cool down across the entire area Sunday and Monday, according to Schoening.

People in Washington and Oregon will also have to contend with smoke from fires across Idaho, Washington and British Columbia, according to Schoening. There are air quality concerns due to the smoke, he said, but it could also serve to cool the region slightly.

“With that smoke in the air, it will reflect some of that sunlight back into space, so that could help to cool temperatures a few degrees,” he said.

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