Why the Northwest’s “Heat Dome” Is So Dangerous

Scorching daytime temperatures aren’t the only problem.

Paramedics respond to a heat exposure call in Salem, Oregon.Nathan Howard/AP

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.

A “heat dome” has settled over the Pacific Northwest, bringing with it record-breaking temperatures and health hazards. The high-pressure dome has parked over much of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, trapping heat “like a lid on a pot,” writes National Geographic. And across the West, more than 20 million people are living in areas with a heat advisory or warning, including much of California, Nevada, Idaho, and Montana. 

“This is a heatwave that has left meteorological observers in awe, and even caused some of us to question the validity of these extreme model predictions,” notes climate scientist Daniel Swain. “This will most likely become the singularly most intense heatwave in modern history for much of the region, featuring temperatures that will probably shatter all-time record high temperatures in many cities and towns.” 

Portland reached a record-breaking 108 degrees on Saturday, and Seattle is expected to reach 111 on Monday. While its historic daytime highs are alarming, this heat wave is particularly dangerous because the nighttime temperatures are so high. (In Portland, tonight’s low is in the 80s.)  Without cooler nights, people aren’t able to recover from the physical taxation of being in heat during the day. This creates a particularly hazardous situation in areas like Seattle, where most homes don’t have air conditioning.

Among the most vulnerable groups to the heat wave are farmworkers, who can’t heed safety advisories to stay out of the sun. It is peak cherry season in Washington; ten million pounds of cherries are being harvested each day, according to the United Farm Workers.

Farmworkers in Washington and California are, in theory, protected by laws that allow for paid breaks in shaded areas and access to water. (The laws aren’t always enforced, and haven’t stopped several deaths from heat stress in recent years.) Most states don’t have heat stress laws, notes the Natural Resources Defense Council.

A federal bill, Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act, was introduced in the House and Senate this year that would direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop heat stress safeguards, like access to water, limits on time in the heat, and emergency responses for workers suffering from heat-related illnesses. It was named after a 53-year-old farm worker who died of heat stress in July 2004, picking grapes during a 10-hour shift in 105-degree heat.

Climate change is driving extreme heat events around the world today, and will bring more unprecedented heat events in the future. As Swain tweeted, “Essentially every severe to record-breaking heat event globally now has a detectable human fingerprint due to #ClimateChange. Study after study after study have shown this.”

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate