An Early Heat Wave Is Roasting the Pacific Northwest


A couple watches the sun set, on May 13, 2023, as seen from the 520 Bridge View Park in Washington during a heat wave.
Photo: Lindsey Wasson (AP)

The Pacific Northwest is currently baking under a heat wave that has lasted for several days. Temperatures on both the lower and higher end of the scales for today are expected to be 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit above average for that region throughout this week.

“Record breaking heat over the Pacific Northwest will expand into the Rockies and Northern/Central Plains over the next few days,” the National Weather Service (NWS) said in today’s alert.

The heat wave began on Friday, and by Saturday the Seattle region had reached a daily record high temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 Celsius), Axios reported. That beat the previous record for May 13 by about 10 degrees F. As of Sunday, more than 10 million people throughout the West Coast were under a heat advisory, according to the NWS. Several areas broke records Sunday, too. The Sea-Tac Airport saw a new high of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the Washington city of Hoquaim saw a record high of 91 degrees Fahrenheit, the Seattle NWS tweeted.

Prolonged, higher-than-average temperatures are dangerous for people anyway, but they can be especially dangerous in the Pacific Northwest. It’s an area with a historically temperate climate, and many older homes and buildings were not made for extreme heat in mind. Many homes did not have air conditioning when the 2021 heat wave pummeled the region. That period became a mass casualty event that killed vulnerable people and overwhelmed regional hospital staff. The extreme heat was also devastating to regional wildlife—an estimated 1 billion marine creatures died because of the high temperatures.

Heat waves are a regular occurrence in the summer, but climate change is ensuring that they happen earlier and stick around for longer. Places like Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest will have to quickly adapt to this new reality.

Want more climate and environment stories? Check out Earther’s guides to decarbonizing your home, divesting from fossil fuels, packing a disaster go bag, and overcoming climate dread. And don’t miss our coverage of the latest IPCC climate report, the future of carbon dioxide removal, and the invasive bugs you should squash on sight.

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