Tuesday, June 29, 2021

A Heatwave Bakes Western North America

For those still in denial about global warming, it's real. 

I came across a news report this morning that a blistering heat wave is scorching the Pacific Northwest, or the geographic region that is western North America.

It is shattering temperature records and damaging infrastructure across this stretch of land usually known for its mild climate. Larry O'Neill, US Oregon's state climatologist pins the blame on climate change.

Salem, the state capital broke its heat record two days in a row, with the temperature hitting 113 degrees on Sunday and 114 on Monday. 

Sizzling heat waves like this one are significant public health threats, particularly in areas like the Northwest, where many people lack air conditioning. It is pointed out that while 90% of US homes have air conditioning, just 78% of homes in Portland, Oregon and 44% of homes in Seattle, Washington State do. 

True enough, the Oregon Health Authority said they have seen an increase in the number of heat-related admissions to emergency rooms and urgent-care centers. There were 128 admissions on Sunday, up from 56 on Saturday and 24 on Friday. 

The Portland Streetcar, which serves downtown Portland, shut down service Sunday and stayed closed on Monday. The service even posted a photo of a melted power cable to explain the disruption. 

And the city’s MAX Light Rail Service had to shut down too, explaining that high temperatures were straining the power grid and the overhead wires that power its trains. 

In Seattle, it was so hot that the city closed a community pool due to "unsafe, dangerous pool deck temperatures", The Associated Press reported. 

The city was compelled to open cooling centers in libraries, senior centers and other community facilities to offer residents a respite from the heat. 

Communities affected by the heat wave are also dealing with roadways buckling from the heat, making them unsafe to travel on. It also raises the risk of sinkholes that can be caused by thermal expansion, in which concrete or asphalt gets so hot it begins to expand with nowhere to go but up. 

If the above is not enough, there are mounting concerns about wildfire risk in a region that is already experiencing a crippling and extended drought.

We need to recognize that extreme heat events are directly tied to human-caused global warming, with studies showing that severe heat events are now on average about 3°F to 5°F hotter than they would be without emissions of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel burning, deforestation and other activities.

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