Northwest heatwave linked a whole bunch of deaths
- The deaths come as a heat dome traps hot air over the Pacific Northwest, with temperature records broken earlier in the week.
- At least 63 people have died in Oregon since Friday, according to the State Medical Examiner’s office. Washington state authorities had linked more than half a dozen deaths to the heat, but that number is set to rise.
- Scientists expect more frequent and intense heat waves due to climate change and the worst drought in recent history.
Authorities from Oregon to British Columbia are investigating hundreds of deaths related to the historic Pacific Northwest Corridor heat wave.
Oregon’s temperatures exceeded 117 on Monday, according to the National Weather Service, due to a heat dome trapping hot air over the state and its neighbors.
At least 63 people have died since Friday, the State Medical Examiner’s office said, and “preliminary research suggests it may be linked to the Pacific Northwest heat wave,” said Oregon State Police captain Tim Fox.
This number was based on reports from each county’s medical office and could fluctuate as more information becomes available.
At least 45 of those deaths occurred in Multnomah County, where Portland, Oregon is located, officials said in a press release. The ages of the dead range from 44 to 97, and most had previous health conditions.
“This has been a real health crisis that has shown how deadly an extreme heat wave can be, especially for people who are otherwise at risk,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County Health Officer. “I know that many residents of the county take care of each other and I am deeply saddened by this initial death toll. As our summers keep getting warmer, I suspect we will face these types of events again. ”
Washington state authorities had linked more than half a dozen deaths to the heat, but that number is set to rise.
The King County’s coroner’s office, which covers an area including Seattle, said at least 13 people have died, the Seattle Times reported. In neighboring Snohomish County, three men aged 51, 75 and 77 died after suffering heat stroke in their homes, the coroner’s office told the Daily Herald on Tuesday in Everett, Washington.
In western Washington, Spokane Fire Department found two dead in an apartment building on Wednesday who were suffering from symptoms of heat-related stress, KREM-TV reported.
Hospitals across the state have been overwhelmed by a wave of patients – one hospital told the Times the influx was reminiscent of the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It felt a lot like what happened in the first few days of trying to deal with the original outbreak [of the coronavirus] at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, ”said Dr. Steve Mitchell, medical director of Harborview Medical Center’s emergency department, told the newspaper. “We were at a point where facilities were struggling with basic equipment like ventilators.”
Further north, British Columbia’s chief medical examiner Lisa Lapointe said at least 486 deaths were reported Friday through Wednesday afternoon, according to Vancouver’s CTV News, a 195% increase over normal sudden deaths in the province.
98 of those deaths occurred in Vancouver and two-thirds of the victims were 70 years of age or older, police said. The coroners were still investigating whether the record-breaking heat played a role.
The deaths come as a heat wave scorched most of the Pacific Northwest. The heat set records earlier this week.
Seattle set a record of 104 degrees on Sunday and broke 107 degrees this Monday, the World Meteorological Organization said. Portland broke the record twice: 108 on Saturday and 112 on Sunday.
Lytton, British Columbia, set records for three days in a row, the highest of which was 121 degrees on Monday, the highest temperature ever recorded both in the country and north of the fiftieth parallel.
But the heat deaths extend beyond the corridor and into the southwestern United States. A heat wave that exceeded temperatures of 118 degrees from June 12-19 in Arizona had confirmed nine deaths and examined at least 75.
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What is causing the deaths?
Heat causes more deaths in the United States than any other natural disaster combined. Scientists expect more frequent and intense heat waves due to climate change and the worst drought in recent history.
According to 2019 US Census Bureau figures, poor air conditioning in the Pacific Northwest is also likely contributing to the deaths.
Seattle has the lowest proportion of air-conditioned homes of any major American city, with 44% of the apartments in the greater area having air conditioning. And while nearly 80% of Portland homes have air conditioning, around half are windowed, which provided significantly less relief than a central air system. In comparison, an average of 91% of households in the United States have air conditioning.
Many Vancouver homes don’t have air conditioning either.
“Heat exhaustion occurs when your body is unable to regulate its own temperature and it starts to rise,” said Dr. Caroline King-Widdall in a statement released Thursday by healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente Northwest. “This can happen when you’re exercising rigorously or when you’re gardening outside on a hot day.”
As temperatures rise, the risk of heat exhaustion increases, King-Widdall said.
“Failure to address heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which is more severe,” said King-Widdall.
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Featuring: Lindsay Schnell, USA TODAY; Claire Withycombe, Salem Statesman Journal; Associated press.