The Record-Breaking High Temperatures Aren't Even the Worst Part of the Pacific Northwest Heat Wave

It is well-known in Seattle that summer weather can't be predicted until after the Fourth. Our friends in other places plan sunny beach trips and barbecues, but we anticipate summer starting with a few weeks of rain and gloom, which the locals affectionately call Juneuary.This year, however, is different. The U.S. Pacific Northwest, western Canada and other parts of the country are experiencing an unprecedented heat wave. Seattle set a new record for heat on Saturday with 103 degrees. We broke the record on Sunday and broke it again Monday with a high temperature of 108 degrees. The heat is so intense that light rail trains run slower due to the fact that tracks are too hot and asphalt has buckled from the heat. Portland set a new record of 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Over the weekend, many other cities in the Pacific Northwest also broke records for the hottest June temperatures or all-time highs. Canadayes, Canada, had a record breaking 47.5 degree Celsius (or around 118 Fahrenheit) in Lytton British Columbia. People are naturally comparing these temperatures with those in hot cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Houston. Yes, these places can get very hot. But if you keep track, Portland's record beats Houstons and Lyttons beats Vegas. This heat wave is unusual for the region and is simply not expected.AdvertisementAdvertisementAdvertisementTake Seattle, for example, where most homes don't have air conditioning.Most of the time, we don't need it. There are a few 90-degree days throughout the summer. But they can be bearable enough if there is a fan and ice water available to make a temporary cooling system. The weather has become hotter and more Seattleites are turning to cool air. Despite being the most air-conditioned metro, the number of homes with air conditioning in the area increased from 31% to 44% between 2013-2019. Many people living in the northwest are at risk due to excessive heat, which can kill hundreds every year.AdvertisementMyself and 56 percent of Seattleites without air conditioning are finding that the old fan-and-ice water trick is not up to the task. Fans can actually be harmful at certain temperatures. According to an ex-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official it acts like a convection oven. Other tips are being shared by people, such as covering windows as much possible. However, in winter sun is at a premium so many people lack window shades. People are now using sheets, blankets and aluminum foil. But Harriet Morgan, a climate scientist, was my favorite creative solution. She used signs from a climate demonstration to block the sun.AdvertisementDespite all these measures, it is still hot in the homes. On Sunday, my apartment was 92 degrees. To escape the heat, my family went to the library and the museum. As we walked through these cool spaces, I realized how grateful I was that this heat wave did not occur a year ago, when it was more dangerous for those who were not fully vaccinated. Cooling shelters have been opened in the city, as well as other air-conditioned spaces such as a funeral home. The Seattle Parks Department even advertised deals at a local mall in an attempt to bring people to safety. Not all businesses can capitalize on people seeking relief. There are many independent restaurants and shops in this area that lack cooling. Some have had to close their doors for the safety of employees.AdvertisementWhile news reports focus on the heat wave's record-breaking temperatures, another record was set: the lowest ever recorded low temperatures. Even in the heatwave, Seattle evenings can be cold so you can open your windows to let fresh air inside your home. However, Seattle's low temperatures in the morning have remained at 73 degrees. Consider that Seattle's average June high temperature is just below 70 degrees. This means that our current low is much hotter than the usual high.AdvertisementIt would be bearable if it was only one day that was so hot, but it is relentless. Since 1894, Seattle had only three days with temperatures over 100 degrees. We have now had three consecutive 100+ degree days. Many of us have difficulty falling asleep or staying comfortable. Some friends have been sleeping outside until the sunrise at 5:14 AM. Did I mention that we have 16 hours of sunshine this time of the year? This meme summarizes it all pretty well. Others don't have the option, especially the approximately 4,000 Seattleites living outside. Many are concerned about their ability to survive the week. Although cooling centers are still an option, those who aren't housed have to face the same barriers as people who are housed. For instance, leaving your belongings behind could lead to never seeing them again. This is a risk that some people are reluctant to take.AdvertisementA heat wave can take a toll on your mental health, as well as the physical. My initial thought was that my lethargy, irritability and overheating were due to being sticky and sticky all day. But then I realized that I actually love being sticky and hot, especially if I'm biking around town, hiking or attending an outdoor concert. Instead, I found myself stuck in my house, still sweating and with all the blinds open, struggling to accept that the world I call home is changing rapidly. I felt helpless and some of the lethargy was caused by anger and grief.AdvertisementFriends asked me how I would handle the cold and rain when I moved to Seattle from Northern California. I laughed and said that Seattle would soon be known as the Bay Area. Now it's been seven years and the signs of climate change have been mounting: In 2020, the West Coast saw an unprecedented wildfire season. Extreme storms are replacing the typical light drizzle in the region. California is also experiencing some difficulties. The Russian River is currently drying up due to severe drought. California's snowpack has dropped to zero percent since June 1. Mother Nature isn't being subtle when she says we are living with climate change. This week feels like an in-your face manifestation of an environmental emergency. A record-breaking heatwave is the best evidence of global warming.AdvertisementAlthough I would love to believe that this heat wave was a rare occurrence, it is now the norm for unprecedented weather. And this is only the beginning. The planet has warmed about 1 degree Celsius so far. However, we are still on track to warm another 2 degrees. I am not optimistic that we can slow climate warming. A leaked copy from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report suggests that we could soon reach tipping points, where the climate will never recover. There is hope for others: Congress appears on track to pass climate legislation that limits methane emissions. Climate activists and scientists continue to work tirelessly towards mitigation. Our greatest challenge is to find a way to prevent our collective destruction. This heat wave, which afflicted 13 million Americans last weekend due to excessive heat, brings these issues to the forefront.In any case, I think I should consider buying an air conditioner.Future Tense is a collaboration between Slate, New America and Arizona State University. It examines emerging technologies and public policy.