Seattle breaks heat record; fire danger grows
City sees 103, Portland also above 100; Northwest eyes lightning fires
msnbc.com staff and news service reports, July 29, 2009
SEATTLE - Northwesterners more accustomed to rain and cooler climate sought refuge from a heat wave Wednesday, as Seattle recorded the hottest temperature in its history and Portland fell just 1 degree short of its own record-breaker. Rural areas in Oregon and Washington were told to be on the watch for lightning strikes through the weekend that could turn dry forests into infernos.
The National Weather Service in Seattle recorded 103 degrees at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, breaking a previous record of 100 degrees, set in downtown Seattle in 1941 and repeated at the airport in 1994.
The system has also caused some dry lightning fires, including one in central Washington overnight that forced 140 families to flee.
Conditions along the western Washington corridor, as well as central Washington and Oregon are "critical for new large fires on through the weekend," according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. "The probability of large fires will be quite high."
In Washington, the director of the state's public lands office issued a statement saying that "the coming days and weeks could be our biggest test yet" for wildfires this year. Most counties in the state are facing high or very high fire dangers.
Longtime records broken
Jay Albrecht, a Seattle meteorologist with the service, said it's the hottest it has been in Seattle since records dating to 1891.
In Oregon, heat records were set in cities across the western half of the state, with Portland topping out at 106 degrees, breaking the old record of 100 for the day but falling 1 degree shy of its all-time record of 107. Portland most recently hit the 107 mark in 1981.
Oregon weather data goes back to the 1850s, although meteorologist Charles Dalton said the 107-degree mark, recorded at the Portland airport, reflects records kept at that site since 1941.
Meteorologist Doug McDonnal in Seattle said the stretch of hot weather has lasted longer than usual. Wednesday was the fifth consecutive day above 85 degrees for Seattle, he said.
Beating the heat
Throughout the region, shade, icy treats, ice-cold water, air conditioning units and fans were in high demand.
Geno Garcia, 40, a Boeing machinist, headed straight for Sears in Seattle early Wednesday when the family's air-conditioning unit broke down.
"We could have lived without it, but it would have been uncomfortable," he said, as he stood in line with about 100 others who bought air conditioners.
Garcia said his family plans to keep cool by hunkering down in the one bedroom that's air-conditioned. They've already moved their TV, games and other necessities into that room, and have been eating meals there.
Darren Wilson, 38, a concrete finisher from Puyallup, Wash., started his Seattle street paving job at 5:30 a.m., three hours earlier than usual, to beat the heat.
"I'm drinking lots of water," he said. "When I get off work, I'm going to my buddy's house and jump in his pool."
Cooling centers open late
Portlanders were trying to stay cool every which way. Public fountains were clogged with children. Libraries swelled with people trying to stay out of the sun. And cooling centers for seniors were open late.
Shirley Markstaller, 71, parked herself in front of a fan and read the morning paper at a cooling center in downtown Portland.
She doesn't have an air conditioner at home, so she's been coming to the center every day for the past week or so. "I just thought, 'Where's the coolest place?'" she said.
The weather throughout Oregon's Willamette Valley was roasting.
The temperature climbed to 106 at the Oregon capital in Salem, and Eugene hit 105, beating a record 101 for the calendar day in both cities. In southern Oregon, Medford inched past its record of 108 to reach 109 on Wednesday. Dalton said that too was a record for the day. The previous records for all those cities were from 2003.
Heat warning continues
An excessive heat warning was in effect for much of western Washington through Friday, but meteorologists in both states said forecasts called for gradual cooling.
In Olympia, a group of visitors were hoping to cool off at the popular Heritage Park Fountain, but were disappointed to find that the water had been turned off for regular weekly maintenance.
"We were expecting it to be working," said Lucina Hernandez, 24, of Barcelona, Venezuela. "This is very bad."
At the Tails-A-Wagging doggie day care in Bellingham, Wash., owner Angi Lenz and her staff kept dogs comfortable with special cooling fans, air conditioning, ice toys and water slides. "We have a waiting list to get in this week because of the heat," Lenz said.
Bellingham hit 96, an all-time record, breaking the old mark of 94, set in 1960. Records there date back to the 1930s.
Not everyone was avoiding the outdoors. Enes Parker, manager of the Lacey Senior Center, said she found indoor air conditioning too cold. Lacey is in Washington, near Olympia.
"I'm one of the few who like the heat," Parker said. "I go outside every so often to warm up. I love the heat. It's always too cold here."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Northwest in sweltering summer grip
The Associated Press, July 28, 2009
SEATTLE Brace yourself for another scorcher temperatures are expected to tip well into the 90s Tuesday, and in some spots in the triple digits.
And it's only going to get hotter - the National Weather Service expects record high temperatures in triple digits Wednesday and Thursday in Western Washington.
"We officially hit 94 Monday at SeaTac - a few degrees short of the record," said KING 5 Meteorologist Rich Marriott. "Today, we're going to pick up a few more degrees, but Wednesday is going to still be the hottest day of the week."
Sea-Tac Airport could reach 100 degrees Wednesday, which would tie the all-time record set July 16, 1941, in downtown Seattle and tied July 20, 1994, at the airport. Temperature records have been kept at the airport since 1948, and were kept in downtown Seattle between 1890 and 1972.
And Thursday is not expected to be much cooler. The average high for Seattle in late July is 76 or 77.
Forecasters say temperatures may ease by the weekend, but remain above normal into next week.
"The cooldown will be slow," said Marriott. "We'll probably stay in the mid to maybe upper 80s over the weekend before we start to gradually work our way to the upper 70s by mid to late next week."
High temperatures also will climb past 100 in parts of Eastern Washington.
Forecasters also were advising of high heat in southwest Washington and parts of Eastern Washington, especially the Yakima Valley and lower Columbia Basin.
An excessive heat warning and air stagnation advisory are in effect through Thursday in the Puget Sound area. The heat warning also is in effect for southwest Washington. And a heat advisory covers parts of Eastern Washington including Yakima and the Tri-Cities.
Monday's temperatures across the state offered a sizzling preview, with Vancouver hitting 103 and other southwest Washington cities warm as well, with Kelso and Packwood both at 100 degrees.
The state capital of Olympia hit 96, about two degree short of their record, and nearby Shelton was at 98 degrees.
Down south, Portland hit a scorching 103 degrees. And east of the Cascades, Moses Lake, Walla Walla and Hanford hit 100.
Communities open cooling off centers
The sweltering heat is not only uncomfortable, it could possibly be dangerous. So many libraries and communities centers around the South Sound will be open and available to people most vulnerable in hot weather.
In addition to the heat, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency says unhealthy levels of smog are expected to develop in parts of King and Pierce counties. The organization says high levels of ozone pollution are forecast for the Cascade foothills, and are expected to reach the "unhealthy for sensitive groups" category.
The dry spell also brings wildfire danger. Lightning storms ignited more than 45 fires in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Thursday and Friday. More than 400 lightning strikes were recorded in the Cascades last weekend.
"Because Western Washington residents aren't accustomed to such heat and have less access to air conditioning, such heat waves are especially dangerous here. Be certain to check on the elderly, the ill or disabled and certainly children," said Jeff Renner. "It goes without saying that no people or animals should be left in cars; even with the windows slightly lowered, temperatures can rise to unsafe levels in minutes."
Many people headed for rivers as temperatures around the Northwest reached into the 90s and even triple digits in some areas.
A woman and her 7-year-old son have been pulled from the Skykomish River Monday. Bystanders rushed to help when they saw the woman go under the water Monday afternoon.
Rescue crews were called about 2 p.m. Both woman and child were taken to a hospital. Their conditions were not immediately available.
In Seattle a body has washed ashore at a Lake Washington park just off Rainier Avenue South. Investigators believe the person drowned and say the circumstances don't appear suspicious.
The body was found Monday evening at Lake Cottage Park. The person was not immediately identified.
In Oregon's Yamhill County, a 36-year-old Newberg-area man fell off a floatation device Monday in the Willamette River and drowned. The victim was identified as Oscar Cortes-Perez.