Record Heat in Washington
Shock is the only way to describe my reaction to the local news that we’d be experiencing temperatures above 100°F later in the week. After all, this was June! In the Pacific Northwest! In over thirty years of living here, I’d never experienced temperatures even close to what was being forecast.
The Effects of Record Heat
These weren’t just uncomfortable temperatures we were facing but dangerous temperatures for a region where the majority of homes have no air conditioning. The human threat was obvious, in fact, 20 deaths were attributed to the heat dome in Washington with Oregon recording 79 deaths. There’s also the economic impact and threat to wildlife in the area.
One unspoken threat was to our beaches where species such as cockles, varnish clams, butter clams, and native littleneck clams—normally buried out of sight—popped to the surface of the substrate in large numbers. Manila clams were also impacted in some areas. Surfaced clams were observed to be gaping, a sign of stress, or had already died from the effects of the heat. Some Pacific and Olympia oysters initially appeared to survive the heat but died in subsequent days, perhaps weakened by the extreme temperatures and unable to recover. In Seattle, over 100 juvenile Caspian Terns fled overheated rooftop nests and fell to their deaths on the pavement below.
Our volunteers collected water quality data from 128 Wild and Scenic Rivers, enabling federal and state agencies to improve accountability and inform river policy, protection, and management decisions.
Our Timber Tracking volunteers collected samples from 787 locations (and counting!) across the range of eastern black walnut, enabling the US Forest Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service to combat illegal logging.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration incorporated our microplastics data into their global marine microplastics dataset.
There are other impacts to take into consideration as well. On the Saturday of the heatwave Seattlites used over 50 million gallons more of freshwater than usual. The freezing level in Western Washington was 18,700 feet, roughly 4,300 feet above the summit of Mount Rainier.
The State Patrol shared photos of an I-5 lane in Shoreline that had crumbled from heat expansion, and a State Patrol trooper near Everson in Whatcom County reported that State Route 544 was closed near milepost 7 because of pavement that buckled to the size of a speedbump. The National Weather Service warned that Western Washington pavement could reach 170°F, a danger for drivers and dog paws.
We were lucky in that we already had a campsite booked for that weekend on the coast which was approximately 25° cooler than other parts of Western Washington. In fact, in order to maximize the cooling effect we set up a day camp on the beach itself; working and cooking in sight of the cooling waves of the Pacific. We only returned to our campsite after sunset when temperatures dropped even further.
We also limited our activities to those that kept us directly on the beach or nearby jetties. It was just too warm to venture far from the shore breeze.
Of course, the real concern is this going to be our ‘new normal? It is encouraging to hear that local officials are addressing the issue. Let’s hope our leaders follow through with their rhetoric.