Punishing heatwave grips Pacific north-west as wildfires rage in western Canada
A punishing heatwave will continue to cook the Pacific north-west this week, after millions of people endured a weekend of temperatures that pushed past 90F (32C) and broke early spring records in several cities.
The hot, dry weather is fuelling dozens of wildfires across western Canada, where thousands have been evacuated and more than a million acres have already burned.
Temperatures are dropping but forecasters with the National Weather Service warned on Monday that they would remain “between 20-30 degrees above average in the Pacific Northwest throughout this week”. Heat advisories remain in effect in areas of Oregon and Washington into Monday evening.
“It’s already warm outside,” the National Weather Service in Seattle tweeted early on Monday morning, highlighting that the city was on track to set a record high for the fourth day in a row. The morning low had already tied for the warmest in May on record.
The weekend weather delivered a spattering of new heat records as temperatures in the typically balmy region climbed higher than those in desert-bound Las Vegas. Eugene, Oregon, reached 94F on Sunday, pushing past a record set in 1939. Portland, Oregon came in at 92F, while Squamish, British Colombia, smashed records with a 96F day.
The heat also exacerbated conditions where firefighters across Alberta, Canada, continue to battle 88 active wildfires, 23 of which remain listed as “out of control” by officials on Monday morning.
“Unseasonably hot weather will persist over coastal BC through this week,” Canadian forecasters wrote in a special weather statement on Monday morning, warning locals that the risks of heat-related illnesses will increase with sustained elevated temperatures.
Those who live in these cooler areas are unaccustomed to sharp shifts in temperature, which can make them more threatening to vulnerable populations and many homes in the region are not equipped with cooling systems.
The heatwave, while dangerous, will not be the worst the region has weathered. Officials were clear to make distinctions between this week’s warnings and 2021’s deadly heat dome, when more than 800 people died in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia after temperatures spiked in late June and early July that year. Soaring to an all-time high of 116F (46.7C) in Portland, heat records were smashed in cities and towns across the region, as marine ecosystems baked and crops scorched.
But climate models show the region will continue to warm in the coming years, posing new dangers to residents and ecosystems alike. Fueled by the climate crisis, dangerous heatwaves that last longer and cover more ground are becoming more likely. Inextricably tied to wildfires, the extreme weather is also expected to spur more devastating blazes in a region that is already primed to burn.
“Fire isn’t going away,” John Vaillant, author of the book Fire Weather recently told the Guardian, adding that this will be a century of burning as the world warms. “This is a global shift. It’s an epochal shift and we happen to be alive for it.”
Leyland Cecco and the Associated Press contributed reporting