This recovery center is usually a center for community members with substance use disorders and housing insecurity in Salem, a city of approximately 170,000 residents. But on Tuesday, the center doubled as a cooling center — one of about 20 centers open to the public in Marion County — as part of a broad effort across the Pacific Northwest to protect residents from intense and sometimes deadly heat waves.
One year after leaving the worst heat wave on record in the Pacific Northwest Hundreds deadThe region finds itself better prepared, even as it continues to face the challenges that come with periods of severe weather
This week’s heat event already broke daily records in Oregon and Washington Tuesday: In Salem, the temperature peaked at 103 degrees, beating the previous record set in 1939. Another record high of 102 was set in Portland. Seattle soared to a record 94.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown (Democrat) announced a State of emergency Tuesday in 25 provinces Running through Sunday, he ordered the state’s Department of Emergency Management to coordinate the response. Almost the entire region, including parts of Northern California, Nevada and Idaho, was subject to heat warnings, or excessive heat warnings, from the National Weather Service. Some areas of eastern Washington and inland Oregon could see temperatures in excess of 110 degrees this week.
The heat is not expected to subside until the end of the week. Portland and Seattle, both under excessive warnings through Thursday, are expected to endure long streaks of temperatures above 95 and 90 degrees, respectively.
In Salem, this is the second year in a row that Recovery has offered space as a cooling center. It was the first time during last year’s heat wave that at least 54 people died in Portland alone, according to officials, the victims were disproportionately older and living alone. Advocates say low-income renters, who may not be able to install or pay for air-coolers themselves, are at particular risk of suffering heat-related illnesses during heat waves.
who – which Catastrophe catalyzed A reassessment of the historically temperate zone where climate change has intensified heat waves. Since then, local governments and nonprofits have ramped up emergency heat relief efforts, drawing on grants and building partnerships to do just that.
“Last year has definitely been a wake-up call in Oregon,” said Candice Avalos, executive director of Verde, a Portland environmental sanitation nonprofit.
In Multnomah County, Oregon, which includes Portland, there were four nighttime cooling centers on Tuesday, along with a day center, mist stations and “splash platforms” across the city. Public transportation buses provided free rides to cool the sites.
Similar efforts are underway in Washington state. In King County, which includes Seattle, a large number of refrigeration centers have opened. The city remains the least air-conditioned metropolitan area in the country: Only 44 percent of homes have some form of air conditioning, according to US Census Bureau data. But that number does not reflect the increase in air-conditioning purchases in the wake of last year’s severe weather. In September, the Washington State Department of Commerce began accepting applications for the first time for air conditioners subsidized through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
While memories still linger from last year’s record-breaking heat dome, the public’s response to the current temperatures has sounded less insane. Temperatures are expected to peak in the low 90s—and while such temperatures are unheard of in Seattle, the projected duration of a five-day heat wave is unusual. Heat will build up in dwellings by the end of the week, which can make sleeping difficult and increase the risk of heat-related illnesses.
The city has launched its standard plan to respond to heat waves, which includes cooling centers in libraries, senior centers and community centers. For those who work outdoors, meanwhile, the state announced emergency heat regulations that went into effect in mid-June. When the temperature reaches 89 degrees, employers must provide workers with at least a quart of cold water per hour and at least 10 minutes, a paid cool-down break every two hours. While heat regulations for outdoor workers have been in place for more than a dozen years, the state Department of Labor and Industries has issued emergency regulations the past three summers while permanent rule changes are being negotiated.
King County also announced the development of its first-ever strategy to mitigate extreme temperatures last month, a direct response to last year’s heat wave that killed more than 30 county residents. The county government applied for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, noting that the agency does not historically provide risk mitigation grants for extreme heat.
“Last year we experienced the deadliest climate event in our history, and these events are expected to continue for longer and more intensely in the future,” Jeff Duchenne, a health officer for Seattle and King County, said in a statement. “We must prepare for the inevitable thermal events that will continue to challenge us, as well as do what we can to reduce the risk of becoming more catastrophic in the future.”
State and local governments in the Pacific Northwest are also working on long-term efforts to adapt to the extreme heat.
In March, Oregon lawmakers passed a bill that would allocate millions of dollars to air conditioners and refrigeration systems for residents who can’t afford them, while funding emergency thermal shelters like those operating across the state this week. The law also protects renters who install some air-conditioning equipment from landlord retaliation.
In Portland, officials aim to install between 12,000 and 15,000 portable refrigeration units and heat pumps in low-income households over the next five years. Verde, a Portland nonprofit, helps coordinate a separate program that provides air conditioners to low-income residents. Avalos said there is “overwhelming” demand for the program.
Parrish, associate director of Recovery Outreach, said he noticed more coherence and organization in the region’s response to this heat wave.
At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the temperature dropped below 95 degrees, the point at which the Salem Cooling Center closed to the public. Parish replaced a large jug of water drained by thirsty visitors while support staff warned their customers of the constant heat. The cooling center is expected to operate throughout the week.
Scruggs reported from Seattle. Jason Samino in Washington, DC contributed to this report.