Dangerous, Historic Heatwave Threatens Pacific Northwest

An orca whale swims in Elliott Bay with the Seattle, Washington, skyline in the background.

The massive heat wave forecast to oppress the Pacific Northwest this weekend will be extreme and historic, among other superlatives, a growing consensus among meteorologists warns.

Climate change, caused by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, makes heatwaves worse and more frequent, and the heatwave expected to roast the Northwest will be extreme in both intensity and duration. Temperatures of 15-30°F above average could stifle the region for as much as a week, held in place by a high pressure “heat dome.” Extreme heat and heatwaves kill as many as 5,600 people living in the U.S. every year, and are often worst in historically redlined neighborhoods.

As reported by The Washington Post:

Seattle, Portland, Spokane and Medford, along with other population centers in the Pacific Northwest, plan to open extra cooling centers as significant numbers of people lack air conditioning and may need to find relief from the sweltering temperatures.

Washington, Oregon and Idaho could all experience their hottest June weather on record, according to the National Weather Service, seeing temperatures of at least 113 or 114 degrees. As heat surges north of the border, British Columbia and Alberta are also predicted to experience record-setting heat and Canada’s highest temperature observed of 113 degrees may fall.

“Even though we’ve had heat waves in June, they haven’t been nearly as strong as this one is forecast to be,” said Larry O’Neill, Oregon’s State Climatologist and a professor at Oregon State University. “Other past exceptional heat waves that we’ve had in the Pacific Northwest — they’ve all occurred after mid-July.”

For a deeper dive:

The Washington Post, Buzzfeed, AP, Vox, CNN, Axios; Climate Signals background: June 2021 PNW heatwave

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