Typically, this rehabilitation center is a hub for community members struggling with substance use disorders and housing insecurity in Salem, a city of approximately 170,000. But on Tuesday, the center doubled as a cooling hub – one of about 20 open to the public in Marion County – as part of a broad effort across the Pacific Northwest to protect residents from intense and sometimes deadly heatwaves.
A year after the worst heatwave ever recorded in the Pacific Northwest caused hundreds of deaths, the region is better prepared, even as it continues to face the challenges that come with periods of extreme weather.
This week’s heat event has already broken daily records in Oregon and Washington state on Tuesday: in Salem, the temperature reached its zenith of 103 degrees, tying up an earlier record set in 1939. Another record of 102 is been established in Portland. Seattle hit the record of 94.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D) declared a state of emergency Tuesday in 25 counties through Sunday and ordered the state’s emergency management department to coordinate a response. Almost the entire region, including parts of Northern California, Nevada, and Idaho, was subject to heat warnings or excessive heat warnings from the National Weather Service. Some areas of eastern Washington and inland Oregon may see temperatures eclipsing by 110 degrees this week.
The heat is not expected to subside until the weekend. Portland and Seattle, both of which are under excessive alert until Thursday, are expected to endure historical series of temperatures above 95 and 90 degrees respectively.
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In Salem, this is the second consecutive year that Recovery offers its space as a refrigeration center. The first time was during last year’s heat wave in which at least 54 people died in Portland alone, according to officials, the disproportionately older and living alone victims. Proponents say low-income renters, who may not be able to install or pay for air coolers themselves, are at particular risk of suffering from heat-related illnesses during heatwaves.
That disaster spurred a reassessment for the historically temperate region as climate change fuels intensified heat waves. Since then, local governments and nonprofits have stepped up emergency heat relief efforts, drawing on grants and building partnerships to do so.
“Last year was definitely a wake-up call for Oregon,” said Candace Avalos, executive director of Verde, a nonprofit environmental justice organization in Portland.
In Oregon’s Multnomah County, which includes Portland, there were four night cooling centers on Tuesday, along with a day center, spray stations and “splash pads” throughout the city. Public transport buses offered free rides to great places.
Similar efforts are underway in Washington state. Several cooling centers have opened in King County, which includes Seattle. The city remains the least air-conditioned large metropolitan area in the country: only 44% of homes include some form of air conditioning, according to data from the US Census Bureau. But this figure does not reflect the surge in air conditioning purchases in the wake of last year’s scorching weather. In September, the Washington State Department of Commerce began accepting applications for subsidized air conditioners through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program for the first time.
While memories of last year’s record-breaking heat dome linger, public response to current temperatures has appeared less hectic. Temperatures are expected to rise around the 1990s, and while these temperatures are not unheard of in Seattle, the expected duration of the five-day heatwave is unusual. Heat will build up in residences by the end of the week, which can make sleep difficult and increase the risk of heat-related illnesses.
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The city has launched its standard heat wave response plan, which includes cooling centers at libraries, senior centers and community centers. For those who work outdoors, meanwhile, the state announced emergency heating regulations that went into effect in mid-June. When the temperature reaches 89 degrees, employers must provide workers with at least one liter of fresh water per hour and at least 10 minutes of paid cooling off every two hours. While heating regulations for outdoor workers have been in place for more than a dozen years, the state’s Department of Labor and Industries has issued emergency regulations for the past three summers while permanent changes to the rules are being negotiated. .
King County also announced the development of its first-ever strategy to mitigate extreme heat last month, a direct response to last year’s heat wave that killed more than 30 county residents. The county government has applied for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, noting that the agency has historically not made grants for risk mitigation for extreme heat.
“Last year we witnessed the single deadliest climate event in our history and these events are expected to last longer and more intense in the future,” Jeff Duchin, Seattle and King County health officer, said in a statement. “We need to prepare both for the inevitable heat events that will continue to test us, and also do what we can to minimize the risk of these becoming even more catastrophic in the future.”
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State and local governments in the Pacific Northwest are also working on long-term efforts to adapt to the extreme heat.
In March, Oregon lawmakers passed a bill committing millions of dollars to air conditioners and cooling systems for residents who can’t afford them, while funding emergency thermal shelters such as those operating across the country. been this week. The law also protects tenants who install certain air coolers from retaliation by landlords.
In Portland, officials aim to install between 12,000 and 15,000 portable cooling units and heat pumps in low-income households over the next five years. Green, the Portland-based nonprofit, is helping coordinate a separate program that provides air conditioners to low-income residents. Avalos said there is “overwhelming” demand for the program.
Parrish, Recovery Outreach’s assistant manager, said he noticed greater cohesion and organization in the region’s response to this heatwave.
At 6:30 pm on Tuesday, the temperature dropped below 95 degrees, at which point the Salem refrigeration center closes to the public. Parrish replaced a large pitcher of water drained by thirsty visitors as support staff warned their customers of the constant heat. The cooling center is expected to run all week.
Scruggs reported from Seattle. Jason Samenow in DC contributed to this report.
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