Seattle breaks 100 year-old record ‘twice in two days’ as climate crisis intensifies extreme weather

Seattle breaks 100 year-old record ‘twice in two days’ as climate crisis intensifies extreme weather
Just 44% of Seattle homes have air-conditioning compared to nationwide average of 91%

As he started up his leaf-blower, Ti Luu glanced at his watch.

Another hour, and then he was heading home to try and find somewhere cool before things really got hot.

“I started work an hour earlier so that I could go home an hour earlier,” said the 35-year-old landscaper. “In the meantime, I am just trying to stay cool – drinking lots of water, and putting ice on my face.”

He added: “This is the hottest I’ve ever seen it in Seattle.”

Mr Luu, who was working outside a home on the edge of city’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood, was one of millions of people on Monday across the simmering, scorching Pacific Northwest, trying to stay cool amid record high temperatures. Often, such efforts were in vain.

From Portland, Oregon, up to northern Vancouver in Canada’s British Columbia, residents were reeling from temperatures that in many cases were the hottest since records began.

Moreover, it was not just a single 24-hour period of freakishly warm weather, but new entries were being made in the record books day after day. And neither was the heat located in a place with its own particularly freakish microclimate, but as television temperature maps showed, it was spread in even red bars of extreme heat across the region.

In Portland on Sunday, temperatures hit a new record of 112 degrees F (44.5). In Seattle, it was 104 degrees F, surpassing a 2009 record of 103 degrees. Monday was shaping up to be even hotter in both cities, and would be the third consecutive days of temperatures above 100F.

Indeed, just before 3pm it was reported Seattle had hit 106 F, making it the hottest day on record, breaking Sunday’s previous of 104.

It’s the hottest day in Seattle on record.

The reason? People sitting outside Seattle’s Macrina Bakery and Coffee Shop, were in little doubt.

“There have only been three days this hot in the last century, or something like that,” said Dean Sagafi, a 25-year-old data analyst who said he had tried to stay cool the night before by putting his bedsheets in the freezer. “And now we’re having three of those days in a single weekend?”

He added: “I am not a scientist but I would put at least some of this down to climate change.”

Scientists are in agreement that the climate crisis, which last year saw this part of the United States devastated by deadly wildfires that struck communities that usually were spared, is leading to to hotter, drier summers, more heatwaves and wildfires.

Cristie Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington who studies global warming and its effects on public health, told the Associated Press this was a taste of what was to come.

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Historically, few homes in Seattle had air-conditioning, with most people reckoning the odd day in the 80s or 90s at the height of summer was not worth it. Indeed, it was reported this week that Seattle has the fewest homes with air-conditioning – just 44 per cent – of any of the 15 largest cities.

Nationally, about 90 per cent of US homes have primary air conditioning installed.

In Seattle, that is increasingly becoming the norm for newly built properties.

“I just moved to Seattle from Portland two months ago. I did not think I would need air-conditioning,” said Erin Frinucane, 31, who was sitting in the shade with her two dogs. “If I had it, I would not be sitting here.”

In addition to sending alerts telling people to stay inside and keep hydrated, officials in larger cities have been opening up cooling centres, many of them public libraries, for people to take respite. The Seattle Times reported that on Saturday, at least 41 people had visited emergency departments in King County for heat-related illnesses. In the last three years, the highest number of such visits was nine.

Lots of businesses in Seattle had shut up for the day, deciding it was too dangerous for their workers.

Among them was Corrin Cruz, a bar tender at an Asian restaurant in the neighbourhood. She was sitting outside a cafe, sipping a bottle of sparkling water.

“It’s the first time they have had to close,” the 29-year-old said of her restaurant. “But it is already hot enough in the kitchens with those woks – especially wearing a mask.”

Officials set up ‘cooling centres’ in libraries and convention centres

Ms Cruz also said she believed the climate crisis was responsible for what was happening.

Yet, she said she felt there was a certain hypocrisy among some residents in cities such as Portland and Oregon. While some people made an effort to cycle or use public transport, many people continued to drive large petrol-engine vehicles.

“Politicians could to more to push for change,” she said. “They have the power.”

Ms Cruz’s apartment also did not have A/C, so over the weekend she spent $160 to get a wall unit. “I get it tomorrow,” she said.

Many campaigners have pointed out that the climate crisis unfairly impacts the poor, and particularly communities of colour, and will continue to do so.

Even a short hot snap like this leaves some people less equipped to deal with it. Diet, access to healthcare, and the presence of pre-existing conditions can all turn extreme weather in to a crisis

Willy Tolliver, 71, a retired lecturer and basketball coach, was on his way to pick up his medicine from the doctor’s clinic.

“I’ve been here since 1968 and there’s not been a day like this,” said Mr Tolliver. He too believed the climate crisis was responsible. “I believe we need to act quickly. Or else there won’t be a world for us to see.”