An unprecedented heat wave gripping the Pacific Northwest is responsible for two deaths in Washington and hundreds of emergency visits amid record-high temperatures in a region known more for rain and overcast weather.
The Seattle Times reported two women, a 65-year-old from Seattle and a 68-year-old from Enumclaw, both died of hyperthermia, meaning both bodies had become dangerously overheated, citing the King County Medical Examiner's office.
The heat may have claimed the life of a worker on a nursery in Oregon, the state’s worker safety agency, known as Oregon OSHA. A 4-year-old boy also drowned Monday, the newspaper said.
Heat-related illness accounted for about 10% of all King County emergency room visits Monday. In total, 357 county residents visited emergency rooms for heat-related issues during the three heat wave.
On Monday, 223 visits to emergency departments were made and emergency workers responded to 165 heat-related calls.
Officials in Bremerton, Washington, said heat may have contributed to four deaths in that Puget Sound city. But Vince Hlavaty, Bremerton’s medical officer, told the Kitsap Sun that firefighters cannot say definitively whether the heat was the cause of death.
The dangerous weather that gave Seattle and Portland consecutive days of record high temperatures exceeding 100 degrees was expected to ease in those cities. But inland Spokane saw temperatures spike.
The National Weather Service said the mercury reached 109 degrees in Spokane — the highest temperature ever recorded there.
President Joe Biden, during an infrastructure speech in Wisconsin, took note of the Northwest as he spoke about the need to be prepared for extreme weather.
"Anybody ever believe you’d turn on the news and see it’s 116 degrees in Portland Oregon? 116 degrees," he said, working in a dig at those who cast doubt on the reality of climate change. "But don’t worry — there is no global warming because it’s just a figment of our imaginations."
In western Washington state, residents were given a reprieve as temperatures dropped by as much as 40 degrees. In some corners, the temperature went from more than 100 degrees by 3 p.m. to the low 70s by 8 p.m., Fox affiliate KCPQ-TV reported.
The heat wave was caused by what meteorologists described as a dome of high pressure over the Northwest and worsened by human-caused climate change, which is making such extreme weather events more likely and more extreme.
The heat may also be responsible for rolling blackouts amid heavy power demand. About 9,300 Avista Utilities customers in Spokane lost power on Monday and the company said more planned blackouts began on Tuesday afternoon in the city of about 220,000 people.
"We try to limit outages to one hour per customer," said Heather Rosentrater, an Avista vice president for energy delivery.
She said about 2,400 customers were without power as of shortly after 2 p.m. Tuesday, mostly on the north side of the city, and those customers had been alerted about the planned outage. About 21,000 customers were warned Tuesday morning that they might experience an outage, she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.