Weather and Natural Disasters

Pacific Northwest cities shatter heat records again, life grinds to a halt

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Key Points
  • In Salem, Oregon's state capitol, temperatures reached 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47.2 degrees Celsius), the hottest since record-keeping began in the 1890s.
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport set an all-time high temperature of 106 Fahrenheit, breaking the record set one day earlier. Portland also broke the previous day's record of 113 Fahrenheit at the airport.
  • Portland, known for rainy weather and sparse sunshine, was especially ill-prepared to handle the high temperatures. Stores sold out of air conditioning units and ice was hard to find.
People sleep at a cooling shelter set up during an unprecedented heat wave in Portland, Oregon, U.S. June 27, 2021.
Maranie Staab | Reuters

The cities of Portland and Salem in Oregon, and Seattle in Washington set new temperature records on Monday as the Pacific Northwest baked under a heatwave that has shut down much of daily life for residents.

In Salem, Oregon's state capitol, temperatures reached 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47.2 degrees Celsius), the hottest since record-keeping began in the 1890s.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport set an all-time high temperature of 106 Fahrenheit, breaking the record set one day earlier. Portland also broke the previous day's record of 113 Fahrenheit at the airport.

"To put it in perspective, today will likely go down in history as the hottest day ever recorded for places such as Seattle, WA and Portland, OR," the National Weather Service said before predicting that the heatwave could begin to ease on Tuesday. The Canadian city of Vancouver set an all-time record on Sunday. The heat has been attributed to a dome of atmospheric high pressure over the upper U.S. Northwest and Canada, similar to conditions that punished California and southwestern states earlier this month.

Portland, known for rainy weather and sparse sunshine, was especially ill-prepared to handle the high temperatures. Stores sold out of air conditioning units and ice was hard to find.

Bars and restaurants closed because kitchen vents could not keep up with the rising temperatures, creating dangerous conditions for cooks.

Isis Givens-Guttierrez, 9, cools off in Georgetown Playfield splash park during a heat wave in Seattle, Washington, U.S., June 26, 2021.
Karen Ducey | Reuters

'Shutting down our life'

"It's completely shutting down our life; my kids are stuck inside," said Jake Edgar, 30, a chef at a Portland restaurant.

Multnomah County, which includes Portland, has opened 11 emergency "cooling shelters," most of them in public libraries, where residents without air conditioning could escape the sweltering heat.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, eased COVID-19 restrictions for theaters, swimming pools and shopping malls and residents flocked to public pools and even fountains to cool off.

But Portland Parks and Recreation closed down public swimming pools on Monday after several lifeguards experienced heat-related illnesses, the agency said. Some companies with AC stayed open as informal cooling shelters for employees, said Sarah Shaoul, co-founder of Bricks Need Mortar, a business advocacy and consulting group.

In Seattle, Washington state's largest city, the mercury climbed on Sunday to an all-time high of 104 degrees F, surpassing a 2009 record of 103 degrees.

The state capital of Olympia likewise set a new benchmark high of 105 degrees, exceeding its 2009 record by 1 degree, according to the Weather Service.

The heat wave was expected to ease somewhat west of the Cascade range by Tuesday but persist through the week to the east of those mountains, it added.

Experts say extreme weather events such as the heatwaves that have descended on parts of the United States this year cannot be linked directly to climate change.

But more unusual weather patterns could become more common amid rising global temperatures, weather service meteorologist Eric Schoening said in an interview this month.