PORTLAND, Oregon — Heat wave duration records could be broken in the Pacific Northwest this week and authorities are expanding capacity at some cooling centers as temperatures near triple digits are expected to last into the weekend.
“For the next few days through Saturday, we’ll be within a few degrees of 100 every day,” said Colby Neuman, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Portland, Oregon.
Temperatures in Oregon’s largest city are expected to rise again to 101 degrees Fahrenheit on Friday. On Tuesday, Portland set the daily record 102 F.
Seattle also reported a new daily record high of 94 F on Tuesday. The heat wave was also forecast to last in western Washington through Saturday.
The National Weather Service has extended its extreme heat warnings from Thursday to Saturday evening.
The duration of the heat wave puts Portland “in the running” for tying its longest streak of six consecutive days of 95 F or higher, Neuman said.
Climate change is driving longer heatwaves in the Pacific Northwest, a region where week-long heatwaves have been historically rare, according to climate experts.
On Wednesday, the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office said at least two people have died from suspected heatwave hyperthermia, KGW reported. One died Monday in Portland, the Multnomah County medical examiner said. The state doctor’s office said the heat-related designation of death is tentative and could change after further investigation.
Heat-related 911 calls in Portland have tripled in recent days, from an estimated eight calls on Sunday to 28 calls on Tuesday, said Dan Douthit, a spokesman for the city’s Bureau of Emergency Management. Most of the calls were related to a medical response, Douthit added.
Multnomah County said more people have visited the emergency room for heat-related symptoms.
Emergency room visits “have remained high since Sunday,” the province said in a statement. “In the past three days, hospitals have treated 13 people for heat illness, when they would normally expect two or three.”
People who worked or exercised outdoors, along with older people, were among those taken to the emergency room, the statement said.
People in Portland’s iconic food cart industry are among those who work outdoors. Many food trucks have been shut down because sidewalks are hissing.
Rico Loverde, the chef and owner of the food truck Monster Smash Burgers, said the temperature inside his truck is generally 20 degrees higher than the outside temperature, bringing it to 120 F in his small business this week.
Loverde said he closes when it gets above 95 F because his refrigerators overheat and shut down. Last week, even with slightly lower temperatures in the mid-1990s, Loverde suffered heat stroke from working for hours in his cart, he said.
“It hurts; it certainly hurts. I still pay my employees when we’re closed because they also have to pay the bills, but for a small business that’s not good,” he said on Tuesday.
Multnomah County said the four emergency shelters for nighttime cooling were at half capacity Tuesday, with 130 people staying overnight. But in anticipation of increased demand, officials decided to expand capacity at the four sites to nearly 300 people.
William Nonluecha, who lives in a tent in Portland, sought shade with some friends as temperatures rose Wednesday afternoon. Nonluecha was less than a minute’s walk from a cold store set up by the local authorities, but was unaware 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 during a record-breaking heat wave last summer that a man in a tent near him died of heat exhaustion and no one realized it. He fears the same could happen this summer.
“He was in his tent for about a week and the smell told them he was dead,” Taylor said. “It is pathetic.”
Residents and officials in the Northwest have been trying to adjust to the likely reality of longer, hotter heatwaves after last summer’s deadly “heat dome” weather phenomenon that caused record temperatures and deaths.
About 800 people died in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia during that heat wave, which struck in late June and early July. Temperatures rose to a record high of 116 F in Portland at the time, breaking heat records in cities and towns across the region. Many of those who died were older and lived alone.
Other regions of the US often experience temperatures of 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.
“There is a much higher risk for individuals in areas like the Northwest to have more frequent heat-related injuries and deaths,” Crandall said.
Officials in Seattle and Portland issued air quality advisories on Tuesday expected to last through Saturday, warning that smog could reach levels that could be unhealthy for sensitive groups.
Further south, the National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for western Nevada and northeastern California on Wednesday, which will last from late Thursday morning through Saturday evening. Across the region, near-record high daytime temperatures will range from 99 to 104 degrees F.