PORTLAND, Ore.— The period of scorching heat in the Pacific Northwest is now expected to last longer than forecasters originally expected, putting parts of the normally temperate region on track to break records for heatwave duration.
“We’ve warmed up the forecast for the latter part of this week,” said David Bishop, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Portland, Oregon. His office is now forecasting up to 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 Celsius) for Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Portland already hit 102 F (38.9 C) on Tuesday, a new daily high, prompting the National Weather Service to extend the excessive heat warning for the city from Thursday through Saturday night.
Seattle also reported a new daily high of 94 F (34.4 C) on Tuesday.
The heat wave’s length puts Oregon’s largest city on track to tie its longest six-day streak in a row of 95 F (35 C) or higher.
Climate change is fueling longer heat waves in the Pacific Northwest, a region where weeklong heat spells were historically rare, climate experts say.
Heat-related 911 calls in Portland have tripled in recent days, from about eight calls on Sunday to 28 calls on Tuesday, said Dan Douthit, spokesman for the city’s Office of Emergency Management. Most of the calls involved a medical response, Douthit added.
Multnomah County, which includes Portland, said there has been an increase in people going to the emergency room with heat-related symptoms.
ER visits “have remained elevated since Sunday,” the county said in a statement. “In the past three days, hospitals have treated 13 people for heat-related illnesses, when they would normally expect to see two or three.”
People working or exercising outdoors, as well as the elderly, were among those taken to the emergency room, the statement added.
People in Portland’s iconic food cart industry are among those working outdoors. Many food trucks closed as the sidewalks sizzled.
Rico Loverde, the chef and owner of the Monster Smash Burgers food cart, said the temperature inside his cart was typically 20 degrees warmer than the temperature outside, making it 120 F (48.9 C) at inside his company this week.
Loverde said he shuts down if he goes over 95 F (35 C) because his refrigerators overheat and shut down. Last week, even with slightly cooler temperatures in the mid-90s, Loverde suffered heat stroke from working in his cart for hours, he said.
“It hurts, it really hurts. I always pay my employees when we’re closed like this because they have to pay the bills too, but for a small business that’s not good,” he said on Tuesday.
Multnomah County said its four emergency overnight cooling shelters were half full on Tuesday with 130 people staying overnight. But anticipating increased demand, the authorities decided to increase the capacity of the four sites to accommodate nearly 300 people. Night shelters will remain open at least until Friday morning.
William Nonluecha, who lives in a tent in Portland, sought shade with friends as temperatures soared on Wednesday afternoon. Nonluecha was less than a minute’s walk from a cooling shelter set up by local authorities, but did not know 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 transitional accommodation, said during last summer’s record-breaking heatwave that a man in a tent near his died of heat exhaustion and no one noticed. He is afraid that the same thing will happen this summer.
“He was in his tent for about a week and the smell, that’s how they figured out he was dead,” Taylor said. “It’s sad.”
Residents and officials across the Northwest have been trying to adjust to the likely reality of longer, hotter heat waves following 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 a 2021 heat wave that hit in late June and early July. The temperature at the time hit a record high of 116 F (46.7 C) in Portland and broke heat records in cities and towns across the region. Many of those who died were older and lived alone.
Other parts of the United States often experience temperatures of 100 degrees. But in areas like the Pacific Northwest, people aren’t as acclimatized to heat and are more sensitive to it, said Craig Crandall, professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. .
“There is a much higher risk for people in areas such as the North West to have higher instances of heat-related injuries and deaths,” Crandall said.
Crandall said people who are continuously exposed to heat have certain bodily adaptations that allow them to cool themselves more efficiently. A main acclimatization response is an increase in the amount of sweat released from the sweat glands.
“The combination of lack of air conditioning and not being exposed to heat and not having these adaptations” may put people in the North West at greater risk during heat waves compared to warmer parts of the country , did he declare.
Portland officials have opened cooling centers in public buildings and installed misting stations in parks. TriMet, which operates public transportation in the Portland metro area, is offering free rides to cooling centers for passengers who cannot afford to pay.
Seattle and Portland officials issued air quality advisories on Tuesday that are expected to last through Saturday.
Further south, the National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for western Nevada and northeastern California on Wednesday, which is expected to last from late Thursday morning through Saturday evening. Across the region, near-record daytime temperatures will range from 99 to 104 degrees F (37.22 to 40 C).
AP reporter Gillian Flaccus and AP photographer Craig Mitchelldyer contributed from Portland, Oregon, and AP reporter Gabe Stern contributed from Carson City, Nevada.
Claire Rush is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow her on Twitter.