‘Historic’ Heat Wave Shatters Record Highs Across the U.S. West Coast, and Temperatures Are Still Rising

‘Historic’ Heat Wave Shatters Record Highs Across the U.S. West Coast, and Temperatures Are Still Rising
Photo: Frederic J. Brown, Getty Images

Record-breaking temperatures are scorching the U.S. West Coast amid what the U.S. National Weather Service is calling a “historic and unprecedented heat wave” — and the summer sizzle hasn’t even reached its peak yet, AccuWeather reports.

More than 20 million people across six U.S. states are under heat alerts from the NWS. Dozens of daily record-high temperatures were broken on Saturday in states ranging from Washington to California. Temperatures are expected to rise even higher on Sunday and into Monday in certain areas, with “no relief in sight” this week for areas to the east of the Cascades, eastern Oregon, eastern Washington State, much of Idaho, and into western Montana, according to the agency.

“After record-breaking heat was felt over the Pacific Northwest and Northern Great Basin on Saturday, even hotter temperatures are forecast today and Monday throughout the region,” it said in a Sunday bulletin. “High temperatures are forecast to soar 20-30+ degrees above average in Washington and Oregon, including highly populated areas west of the Cascade Mountains. Highs well into the triple digits will significantly increase the threat of heat related illnesses.”

In short, the Pacific Northwest is frying under a heat dome, which forms when high-pressure circulation in the atmosphere creates a sort of lid that stops hot air from escaping. A heat dome this intense is so rare, it’s the kind of event you would expect to experience once in 1,000 years, according to CBS meteorologist Jeff Berardelli. Another meteorologist, Scott Duncan, predicts that some of the hottest places on the planet will be in the Pacific Northwest this year.

Portland, Oregon, had its hottest day on record Saturday, with temperatures reaching 42.2 degrees Celsius, according to the NWS. But that record may not last for long: AccuWeather is predicting a high of 46.1 degrees Celsius on Sunday and 45.6 degrees Celsius on Monday. The city hit its previous all-time high of 41.7 degrees Celsius in 1965 and 1981.

On Saturday, the NWS said temperatures hit 40.6 degrees Celsius, in Salem, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, each city’s monthly maximum temperature record for the month of June. Seattle, Washington, hit 38.9 degrees Celsius that same day, a record for June.

In many places, even the morning lows will surpass the area’s average high temperatures, which just goes to show the “anomalous nature of this historic heatwave,” the NWS reported Saturday. The last time the Pacific Northwest even came close to feeling this kind of heat was in July 2009, when temperatures lingered between 38.3 degrees Celsius and 41.1 degrees Celsius for two to four days, according to the agency. This region’s hottest part of the year typically falls in late July, so the fact that we’re seeing all-time records fall when the summer’s barely started is not a good sign, to say the least.

The NWS advises those in areas experiencing unprecedented high temperatures to stay hydrated, stay inside as much as possible, and avoid prolonged exposure to the sun. Soaring temperatures have battered the West Coast in recent weeks, drying up reservoirs, curtaining hydropower, and exacerbating the impacts of widespread droughts across the region.

As disastrous as this heat wave has been, it’s only the beginning. Thousands of temperature records have already been shattered this year, and experts predict the climate crisis will continue to increase the odds of heat and megadroughts this century, so this weekend’s records likely won’t stand for long.