The Pacific Northwest in the United States is experiencing unprecedented heat wave this week. Washington State and Oregon have recording historical temperature highs, never before recorded in the typically cooler climates of the Northwestern states.

“This heat wave is what climate change looks like. Quite frankly, this is one of the most unusually extreme weather events I have ever seen in my 18 years as a meteorologist,” said Eric Holthouse, founder of Currently weather service in a Tweet today.

The crisis has triggered emergency services and cities to respond by creating ‘cooling centers’ where those without access to air conditioning or safe refuge from the scourging sun and suffocating heat. Portland Oregon is 107 degrees Fahrenheit today while Seattle, Washington reached 101 degrees Fahrenheit today.

The last time Portland recorded 107 degrees was on 2nd July 1942 according to the National Weather Service Forecast Office.

Seattle, Washington has only recorded three days historically over 100 degrees farenheit but are now experiencing over 100 degrees days in a row.

“The Pacific Northwest is known for cool and rainy weather, what we are seeing now is what global climate models have predicted for some time. This might be the hottest summer on record, and won’t be last. This will no doubt go up from here,” said environmentalist Alofa Paul Anderson.

Indeed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has cautioned that this will happen in the Assessment Report 5: Long-term Climate Change: Projections, Commitments and Irreversibility.

“It is virtually certain that, in most places, there will be more hot and fewer cold temperature extremes as global mean temperatures increase. These changes are expected for events defined as extremes on both daily and seasonal time scales. Increases in the frequency, duration and magnitude of hot extremes along with heat stress
are expected,” the report noted.

Cities like Portland and Seattle experience extreme high temperatures more severely due to a number of factors which include concrete landscapes common in urban areas which tend to absorb solar radiation, making the effects of heat waves more severely.

Cities, are also among the highest contributors to global emissions, and extreme heat days drive up cities energy consumption thereby increasing cities negative impact on climate.

“During extreme heat, Cities use an exceptional amount of power to keep ourselves cool. About 20-25 percent more power is needed on a 90°F day compared to an 80°F day. When the temps raise to 95°F, nearly 40 percent more power is needed when compared to an 80°F day,” wrote Heather Leighton of Rice Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

As millions of Pacific Northwest residents continue to cope with the heat, the temperatures are predicted to continue at current extreme levels. Perhaps this may offer city dwellers an insight into the realities of climate change and the urgency of the situation, even for them.

Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson
Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson

Editor, Pacific Environment Weekly

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