Seattle breaks 100-year-old record ‘twice in two days’ as climate crisis intensifies extreme weather

·5-min read
Children play in a fountain in  Portland, one of many places in Pacific Northwest where people struggled to stay cool (Getty Images)
Children play in a fountain in Portland, one of many places in Pacific Northwest where people struggled to stay cool (Getty Images)

As he starts up his leaf-blower, Ti Luu glances at his watch.

Another hour and he is to head home to try to find somewhere cool before things really get hot.

The 35-year-old landscaper says: “I started work an hour earlier so that I could go home an hour earlier. In the meantime, I am just trying to stay cool – drinking lots of water and putting ice on my face.

“This is the hottest I’ve ever seen it in Seattle.”

Mr Luu, who was working on the edge of city’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood on Monday, was one of millions across the simmering, scorching Pacific Northwest, trying to stay cool amid record high temperatures. Often, such efforts were in vain.

From Portland, Oregon, up to northern Vancouver in Canada’s British Columbia, residents were reeling from temperatures that in many cases were the hottest since records began.

Moreover, it was not just a single 24-hour period of freakishly warm weather but new entries were being made in the record books day after day. And the heat was not located in one place with its own particularly freakish microclimate but as television temperature maps showed, it was spread in even red bars of extreme heat across the region.

In Portland on Sunday, temperatures hit a record 112F (44.5C). In Seattle, it was 104F, surpassing a 2009 record of 103F. Monday was shaping up to be even hotter in both cities and would be the third consecutive day of temperatures above 100F.

Indeed, just before 3pm it was reported Seattle had hit 106F, making it the hottest day on record, breaking Sunday’s previous of 104F.

The reason? People sitting outside Seattle’s Macrina Bakery and Coffee Shop, were in little doubt.

Dean Sagafi, 25, a data analyst, says: “There have only been three days this hot in the last century, or something like that and now we’re having three of those days in a single weekend?” He says he had tried to stay cool the night before by putting his bedsheets in the freezer and adds: “I am not a scientist but I would put at least some of this down to climate change.”

Scientists are in agreement that the climate crisis, which devastated this part of the United States last year with deadly wildfires that struck communities that usually were spared, is leading to hotter, drier summers, more heatwaves and wildfires.

Cristie Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington who studies global warming and its effects on public health, is reported as saying this is a taste of what is to come.

Historically, few homes in Seattle had air-conditioning, as most people reckoned it was not worth it just for the odd day in the 80s or 90s at the height of summer. Indeed, it was reported that Seattle has the fewest homes with air-conditioning – just 44 per cent – of any of the 15 largest US cities.

Nationally, about 90 per cent of US homes have primary air-conditioning installed.

In Seattle, that is increasingly becoming the norm for newly built properties.

Erin Frinucane, 31, sitting in the shade with her two dogs, says: “I just moved to Seattle from Portland two months ago. I did not think I would need air-conditioning. If I had it, I would not be sitting here.”

In addition to sending alerts telling people to stay inside and keep hydrated, officials in larger cities have been opening cooling centres, many of them public libraries, for people to take respite. The Seattle Times reported that on Saturday, at least 41 people had visited emergency departments in King County for heat-related illnesses. In the past three years, the highest number of such visitors was nine.

Lots of businesses in Seattle shut for the day, deciding it was too dangerous for their workers.

Among them was Corrin Cruz, 29, a bar tender at an Asian restaurant. She was sitting outside a cafe, sipping a bottle of sparkling water.

She said of her restaurant: “It’s the first time they have had to close but it is already hot enough in the kitchens with those woks – especially wearing a mask.”

A convention centre is set up as a ‘cooling centre’ for locals (Getty Images)
A convention centre is set up as a ‘cooling centre’ for locals (Getty Images)

Ms Cruz also says she believes the climate crisis is responsible.

Yet, she says there is a certain hypocrisy among some residents in cities such as Portland. While some people made an effort to cycle or use public transport, many continue to drive large vehicles.

She adds: “Politicians could to more to push for change. They have the power.”

Ms Cruz’s apartment also did not have A/C, so over the weekend she spent $160 (£115) on a wall unit.

Many campaigners have pointed out that the climate crisis unfairly impacts the poor, particularly communities of colour, and will continue to do so.

Even a short hot snap like this leaves some people less equipped to deal with it. Diet, access to healthcare and the presence of pre-existing conditions can all turn extreme weather in to a crisis

Willy Tolliver, 71, a retired lecturer and basketball coach, was on his way to pick up his medicine from the clinic.

He, too, believes the climate crisis is responsible. He says: “I’ve been here since 1968 and there’s not been a day like this. We need to act quickly. Or else there won’t be a world for us to see.”

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