SPOKANE, Washington: The unprecedented Northwest US heatwave that slammed Seattle and Portland, Oregon, moved inland on Tuesday (Jun 29) prompting a electrical utility in Spokane, Washington, to warn that people will face more rolling blackouts amid heavy power demand.
The intense weather that gave Seattle and Portland consecutive days of record high temperatures far exceeding 37.7 degrees Celsius was expected to ease in those cities. But inland Spokane was likely to surpass Monday's high temperature - a record-tying 40.6 degrees Celsius.
About 8,200 utility customers in parts of Spokane lost power on Monday and Avista Utilities warned that there will be more rolling blackouts on Tuesday in the city of about 220,000 people with the high temperature predicted at 43.3 degrees Celsius, which would be an all-time record.
Avista had planned for much higher than normal demand but hit its limit quicker than anticipated because of the intense heat, said Heather Rosentrater, the company's senior vice president for energy delivery, said Monday night.
Temperatures in other eastern Washington and Oregon communities could reach about 45.6 degrees Celsius on Tuesday, a day after Seattle and Portland shattered all-time heat records.
Seattle hit 42 degrees Celsius by Monday evening - well above Sunday’s all-time high of 40 degrees Celsius . Portland, Oregon, reached 46.6 degrees Celsius after hitting records of 42 degrees Celsius on Saturday and 44 degrees Celsius on Sunday.
The temperatures have been unheard of in a region better known for rain, and where June has historically been referred to as “Juneuary” for its cool drizzle. Seattle's average high temperature in June is around 21.1 degrees Celsius, and fewer than half of the city's residents have air conditioning, according to US Census data.
The heat forced schools and businesses on Monday to close to protect workers and guests, including some places like outdoor pools and ice cream shops where people seek relief from the heat. COVID-19 testing sites and mobile vaccination units were out of service as well.
The Seattle Parks Department closed one indoor community pool after the air inside became too hot - leaving Stanlie James, who relocated from Arizona three weeks ago, to search for somewhere else to cool off. She doesn't have AC at her condo, she said.
“Part of the reason I moved here was not only to be near my daughter, but also to come in the summer to have relief from Arizona heat," James said. “And I seem to have brought it with me. So I’m not real thrilled.”
The heatwave was caused by what meteorologists described as a dome of high pressure over the Northwest and worsened by human-caused climate change, which is making such extreme weather events more likely and more intense.
Zeke Hausfather, a scientist at the climate-data nonprofit Berkeley Earth, said that the Pacific Northwest has warmed by about 1.7 degrees Celsius in the past half-century.
“In a world without climate change, this still would have been a really extreme heatwave,” Hausfather said. “This is worse than the same event would have been 50 years ago, and notably so."
The blistering heat exposed a region with infrastructure not designed for it, hinting at the greater costs of climate change to come.
“We are not meant for this,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee said in an interview on MSNBC.
He added that "we have to tackle the source of this problem, which is climate change".
In Portland, light rail and street car service was suspended on Monday as power cables melted and electricity demand spiked.
Heat-related expansion caused road pavement to buckle or pop loose in many areas, including a Seattle highway. Workers in tanker trucks hosed down drawbridges with water twice daily prevent the steel from expanding in the heat and interfering with their opening and closing mechanisms.
Democratic US Senator Maria Cantwell said in a statement that the Northwest heat illustrated an urgent need for the upcoming federal infrastructure package to promote clean energy, cut greenhouse gas emissions and protect people from extreme heat.
“Washington state was not built for triple digit temperatures,” she said.