Scorching Heatwave Rocks the Pacific Northwest

A heatwave in the Pacific Northwest has led to record-breaking temperatures, wildfires, and loss of human life in the United States and Canada. Temperatures have soared to nearly 50℃ in parts of Western Canada and may be linked to dozens of deaths.   

The Pacific Northwest encompasses California, Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and parts of British Columbia in Canada. These areas are typically used to mild climates and a heatwave of this scale is unprecedented for the region. As a result, many of these regions don’t have air conditioning installed in homes, leading to local governments running cooling centres to help keep their constituents safe. Hotel rooms in Seattle, Washington with air conditioning were charging hundreds of dollars a night at the peak of the heatwave as customers sought relief from the extreme temperatures. 

Hot, dry air has meant wildfires have easily spread and destroyed substantial amounts of wildlife and vegetation. This is best exemplified by Lytton, a small village in British Columbia which has been largely wiped out by the wildfire as it ravaged through, destroying almost every home. The extreme heat has also allowed these fast-moving fires to spread and damage infrastructure. Reports of roads buckling under the heat have been common, as well as power cables melting under the strain of the temperature.   

The unusually high climate is believed to be caused by global warming and a phenomenon known as a heat dome. In a heat dome, warm air builds up in dry summer conditions. This warm air is then pushed down towards the ground by high amounts of pressure in the atmosphere. Due to this high pressure, the warm air is compressed, thus becoming hotter and denser. 

Scientists such as Larry O’Neill, a climatologist from Oregon State University, believe global warming may be making these weather patterns more common. O’Neill, when asked about the possible effects of global heating on the cause of weather patterns like this, said, “We’re seeing these highs form more frequently, and more persistently.” 

Worldwide, temperatures have already been higher than past recordings due to increased global warming, with 2016 and 2020 being tied as the hottest years on record. ‘Freak weather’ patterns such as this heatwave are exacerbated by global warming with

devastating consequences for humans and nature alike. In the journal, Nature Climate Change, a study suggested 37% of heat-related deaths were attributed to human-caused climate change. With evidence suggesting global temperatures are still increasing, extreme weather patterns such as the blistering Pacific Northwest heatwave will likely become more commonplace.

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George Barsted

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July 2021
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