‘My thermometer hit 120F and it broke’: Residents of Moses Lake reel in Northwest heatwave

·4-min read
Jim DeeHerrera says he’s seen seasons change (Andrew Buncombe)
Jim DeeHerrera says he’s seen seasons change (Andrew Buncombe)

When it comes to the matter of climate change, Jim DeeHerrera says he tends to listen to his brother.

His brother is a biologist who lives in Portland, and his brother says climate change is real.

“He’s a scientist. He says you’re foolish if you don’t believe in it,” says Mr DeeHerrera eating breakfast – eggs well done, sausage, a stack of pancakes and coffee – in a restaurant called Mom and Pop’s Diner.

“He says he’s not sure they have time to time stop it. My view is that we should be focussing on this; rather than spending all this money on Nasa and stuff, we should be helping ordinary people.”

If Mr DeeHerra had needed more persuading that his brother’s view about the threat of the climate crisis was correct, he received it this week, when temperatures soared in the city of Moses Lake, so much so that DeeHerra says his thermometer shattered.

“On Tuesday, my thermometer hit 120F (48.8C) – that was the hottest I’ve seen it,” says the 67-year-old. “In August we’ll get days when it hits around 100F, but this is the earliest I’ve seen this.”

As it was, the temperatures experienced by people in the city of 20,000 people, located in eastern Washington, 200 miles from Seattle, may have varied. The official temperature last Tuesday was 114F, but DeeHerra says at his home on the edge of the city, the temperature, on his deck, shaded from the sun, reached 120F.

In the glass house, where he and his partner grow plants, it reached 135F. He says the following day, he awoke to discover his thermometer had shattered.

It was so hot that his thermometer had broken, he is asked. “Well, I can’t be certain – maybe the dog knocked it over. But people say these things can break if they get too hot.”

One thing that was beyond dispute, that in Moses Lake, established on land taken from indigenous tribes in a treaty brokered in the 1940s and apparently named for a tribal elder, rather than a biblical prophet, and in communities across the region, the temperatures have hit levels never experienced before.

From Portland, Oregon, to Washington state, and up to Canada’s British Columbia, a region sometimes referred to as Cascadia, officials have been making new entries in record books that were started 70 years ago or more.

The city of Moses Lake expanded sharply following a series of damming projects that were undertaken in the first part of the last century, a regional operation that included the Coulee Dam, and was part of the Columbia Basin Project.

This week temperatures hit 114F in Moses Lake (Andrew Buncombe)
This week temperatures hit 114F in Moses Lake (Andrew Buncombe)

The waters of the Columbia River have been used to irrigate vast golden wheatfields and other crops in a part of the country that would otherwise be little more than desert.

Yet, for all the evidence of climate change that people see with their own eyes and narrate with their own descriptions – milder, shorter winters and hotter, more intense summers – there are some who still do not believe the planet is changing.

Robert Bolton, 61, who says he served six years in the military, is currently homeless and living in motel rooms. He says unlike many homes in the city, his room has air-conditioning. On Tuesday, it struggled to keep up.

“It’s just a hot summer,” says Mr Bolton, sitting in wheelchair outside the Postal Service office. “It’s not a reason to give more money to Democrats for their Green New Deal.”

A woman and her husband, who declines to be named, and who pulls up to the postal facility, are similarly scornful of the notion that something serious was happening.

“We’ve lived here 40 years,” says the woman, who says she is 64 and gives her initials as RB. Her husband says: “It’s been hot, cold. It’s a natural process.”

With that, the window to their air-conditioned SUV quickly closes and they drive away.

While eastern Washington is considerably more conservative than the western part of the state, which includes Seattle, it does not mean everyone is in denial about climate science.

“I don’t remember it being this hot,” says Maria Sanchez, 30, a paralegal. “Obviously it’s global warming.”

Water from Columbia River has allowed farmers to survive (Andrew Buncombe)
Water from Columbia River has allowed farmers to survive (Andrew Buncombe)

Why does she think so many people do not accept the science? “I don’t know, but you can see see it in front of you. I have never drank as much water as I have this week.”

America’ Pacific Northwest has historically had some of the fewest number of homes with air conditioning, given the typically moderate weather.

In Seattle, just 33 per cent have ACs, while in Portland the number is 70. Nationally, 91 per cent of homes are equipped with them.

Newer homes in the region are typically fitted with ACs, and this week has forced many to consider buying a unit – something they never thought they would need.

Indeed, for many people, working in an air-conditioned office when the temperatures soared made all the difference in the world.

Stephanie Stephens, 36, is an accountant, and her office in Moses Lake has AC. She also believes that the climate crisis is helping drive the extreme weather.

“I believe it’s global warming,” she says. “All over the world temperatures are changing and getting hotter.”

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