The Slatest

How the Pacific Northwest Is Coping With the Heat Dome

A child with outstretched arms stands in a fountain's stream of water.
Kids play in the Salmon Springs Fountain on Sunday in Portland, Oregon. Nathan Howard/Getty Images

Record-breaking temperatures continue to wreak havoc across the Pacific Northwest, sending everyone scrambling to find ways to manage the heat dome–induced problems.

Cities and towns across the region are opening cooling centers and public spaces to help combat the threat of heat-related illnesses for their residents. On Friday, the Oregon Health Authority suspended COVID-19 capacity limits for swimming pools, movie theaters, and shopping malls, making more space available to those seeking shelter from high-temperatures.

A man rests on a cot in a cooling center, along with his bike.
A man rests in a cooling center at the Oregon Convention Center on Sunday. Nathan Howard/Getty Images
Woman with a cat inside a tent
A woman and her cat sit inside a tent at the Oregon Convention Center cooling station on Monday. Kathryn Elsesser/Getty Images

But there’s a hurdle for people hoping to get to the cooling centers: Heat damage to public transportation and roadways is making travel more difficult. The pavement along I-5 in Seattle buckled and warped, as the asphalt expanded due to high temperatures. In Oregon, a buckling road sent a shock through a resident’s house, causing them to believe an earthquake had hit.

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The Seattle Department of Transportation has been dousing the city’s three steel drawbridges with cold water in attempts to prevent the metal from expanding.

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In Portland, streetcar and light rail service was suspended through Tuesday as record-breaking temperatures disrupted the power grid and damaged the system’s overhead wires. Portland Streetcar’s Twitter account posted a picture of the melted cables that it blamed for the disruption to the service, which has been cited as evidence of how the region’s infrastructure is not built to withstand climate change’s new-normal heat waves.

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The Pacific Northwest is also seeing a surge in hotel prices as residents turn to renting air-conditioned rooms, as many buildings and houses don’t have central air. On Monday, every single hotel from Bellingham to Olympia was sold out on Expedia, Priceline, Hotwire, and Travelocity. Stores reported hours-long lines to purchase window units, and utility companies are concerned about the stress on the grid.

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The heat wave has been attributed to dozens of deaths, with coroners in the U.S. and Canada noting sharp increases in the number of reports this past week. Between Sunday and Monday, three people drowned in Washington’s lakes and rivers, where “deceptively cold waters can shock even experienced swimmers,” according to Seattle news station Q13 Fox. In Oregon, emergency rooms and urgent care facilities saw spikes in the number of patients being treated for heat-related illness over the weekend. The state’s homeless population is particularly vulnerable to the heat, and two men were found dead this weekend along a stretch of road used by unhoused campers. Service providers for the community suspect that heat may be to blame, though no official causes of death have been confirmed.

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Health concerns from the heat extend to pets: A Vancouver animal hospital reported four dog heat-stroke deaths on Sunday. Efforts to protect pets from the high temperatures include distributing cooling vets, bringing pets along to cooling centers, and upping hydration with an interesting concoction: dog water infused with canned tuna.

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The heat wave is also altering Fourth of July celebrations in the U.S., as officials enact firework bans across the Pacific Northwest amid arid conditions. On Tuesday, Portland, Oregon, and Clark County, Washington, joined other cities in the region in banning the use of fireworks through the Fourth. Last summer, 44 out of 223 fires in Portland were attributed to fireworks.

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Some people are using the heat to test their culinary skills, frying eggs on porches and baking cookies or roasting surf-and-turf in cars. But a tweet from journalist Morgan Black highlights the destructive power of a hot car in Edmonton, Canada:

Although many cities are seeing drastic drops in overnight temperatures, forecasters predict that thermometers will hover about 10-20 degrees above average until at least next Tuesday—a substantial, but insufficient, improvement from the past weekend’s temperatures of 30-40 degrees above normal. While the heat wave strikes most of us as unusually severe, it’s likely that we’ll be baking in temperatures similar to these again—and soon. Climate scientist Park Williams warns, “We could have two, three, four, five of these heat waves before the end of the summer.”

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