The heat wave centered in the Pacific Northwest broke records across the region on both sides of the border. But these recordings barely lasted 24 hours in some cases. Even before the hottest part of the day, the mercury again reached levels never seen before in the region known more for drizzle than sizzle.
Salem, Oregon, is 116 degrees Fahrenheit (46.7 degrees Celsius), surpassing the record it just set on Sunday. In fact, the heat is so hot it would only be one degree off the Las Vegas record. You know, the city 1,191 kilometers to the south, in the middle of the desert and synonymous with triple-digit heat. At the time of writing this article, the Canadian town of Lytton, British Columbia, did reaches 117 degrees Fahrenheit, a record for the whole country (the same city set the record on Sunday). Or more specifically, it hit 47 degrees Celsius, which rounds up to 117 degrees Fahrenheit. What a look, no matter how you cut it, it’s hot as hell.
Portland hit 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius), breaking the record it also set on Sunday, which broke a record set on Saturday. Seattle faced a sea breeze just in time to avoid the 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 degrees Celsius) mark that was in the forecast. But the temperature again exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius) on Monday for the third day in a row, something never happened in recorded history.
Quillayute, Washington, a city on the Olympic Peninsula just under five miles from the coast, reaches 109 degrees Fahrenheit (42.8 degrees Celsius). This destroyed the record set in 1981 for a staggering 10 degrees Fahrenheit (5.5 degrees Celsius), something that just doesn’t happen. (Records usually fall by a degree or may be of them.)
The intense heat is destroy the region’s infrastructure which was never built to withstand the onslaught of such high temperatures, let alone for such a long period of time. People also succumb to heat-related illnesses and try to beat the heat as much as possible in an area where air conditioning is not the norm.
The story of the intense heat is hardly confined to one corner of the country or even to the Canada-US border. Much of North America with sweltering heat stretching from the Canadian Arctic to Baja California as well as a stretch of the Gulf Coast to Prince Edward Island. The Pacific Northwest heat wave is rightly making most of the headlines because it’s unprecedented, but I can tell you New York feels like it’s sitting in the mouth of a dog in this moment.
The map at the top of the page, which shows the overland wind map, gives a bird’s-eye view (or more accurately, a bird’s-eye view) of the situation. The map shows what is called the misery index. Using data from weather models, the index takes into account not only temperature but also humidity. During the cold months, the index weighs in on things like wind chill as well, and honestly, I’d kill for that numb toe feeling right now. The current visualization gives the impression that North America has a sunburn. Which, frankly, seems fair.
This heat wave is what the climate crisis looks like. Burning fossil fuels has caused the planet’s temperature to rise by about 1 degree Fahrenheit (1.8 degrees Celsius), but this type of heat changes the odds so that what was once rare becomes normal and what once was unthinkable happens. Unfortunately, that means you might want to bookmark the misery index because it is likely to be useful in the future.