Climate Change in the West – Part 2

In August 2018 I wrote a post about the incredible fire season that I found myself in during my first trip west. Smoke blanketed at least four states I visited. Campgrounds were closed in Glacier NP sending people south to find places to stay. The AQI in Seattle was so bad that people were told to stay indoors and outdoor youth activities were cancelled.

Fast forward to June 2021 and I am experiencing another record breaking weather event in the west. The temperature inversion that sat on the west coast was brutal. I know people in AZ and NV experience this annually. But those are desert regions. This is the Pacific Northwest timberland. No one has air conditioning and people here are not climatized to high heat. Humidity was low, thankfully. I’ve suffered through midwest summers and have experienced high temps and high humidity. I lived in Florida for 30 years. I know tropical weather. But those places have lots of air conditioning. Seattle was unprepared for a multi-day, triple-digit event where nighttime temps hovered at 70 degrees or higher. Portland opened an arena and let people come and stay with pets. Seattle had no such offering. My city recommended going to the mall during the day for some relief. The problem is that the body doesn’t recover quickly and a few hours of cool will soon be overwhelmed with hot temps outdoors and worse inside.

Portland posted pics of their trolly system that went down because electrical connectors melted. In Seattle, the highways buckled and have left craters and crevices forcing traffic detours. The air quality got bad and it was extremely hazy – so much so that in clear sunny weather the mountains were obscured. People flocked to rivers and waterways which are still frigidly cold with mountain runoff. Feast or famine. Even the Pacific coast on the Olympic Peninsula did not escape triple digits. That’s an indication of how widespread the heat was. I was fortunate to find a cheap hotel room an hour north of Seattle where I had A/C and wi-fi. Outside temps reached only 103 on the the worst day. Temps got to 111 where I live and hour south.

Now the heat dome is moving east and frying the eastern part of WA along with Idaho and Montana. Those locations get a dose of 100+ temps every few years. Last year I drove through one of those heat waves on my way to Seattle. It was no fun watching the temperature gauge on my truck register 103 as I stopped every hour to give the tires a rest. I remember pulling into a campground in the middle of Montana and thinking I couldn’t go on. I hate hot weather but I better get used to it.

The arctic region registered 100+ degree ground temps this week. Let that sink in. Ice plus high temps means massive melting. Climate change is upon us. If you can’t go north to get out of the heat, then we are in deep trouble.

I would have gone camping during the heatwave but highs in the 90s were predicted in the mountains. There was no place to go where my A/C could keep up with the heat or that I would even have an electric hookup and shade. I was lucky to find a motel that takes pets and that had space. It took me two days and a lot of searching to find it. I worry about my elderly and disabled neighbors. The day I left I was soaked with sweat in the morning as I loaded stuff up to leave. I can’t imagine how hot it got inside. I hope no one died. The local news put on a story about a man who drove to Redding, CA where he found 17 portable air conditioners and brought them back. He hooked up with some donors who paid for them and then gave them away to needy people. One was given to a man who had a heart condition and the inside of his house was over 100 degrees. The cumulative effect of heat is a real danger that people are not prepared for. The house doesn’t cool down, your body doesn’t cool down, and there is no relief.

I’ve read some people commenting online that people survived before A/C in the south and this concern is overblown. And houses there were built with 10 foot windows and verandas to let air fully circulate through the house. My apartment doesn’t even have a cross breeze. People used to sleep at night in public parks before A/C to get cool. I guess we could do that. My brother told me that when he was little during the day he and the family would hang out in the basement where it was cool. I live on the third floor and there are no basements. Yes, we can survive heat extremes but we need to adjust our infrastructure, our living environs, and our communal resources.

I’ve now been through two of the most noteworthy climate change events in the last few years. I was lucky I wasn’t in TX last winter or on the Gulf coast of FL for hurricane season. It’s increasingly clear there are fewer places to run and fewer places to hide. Maybe we should face climate change head on and make some real changes in the way we live.

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