By CLAIRE RUSH
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Under the sweltering heat, Matthew Carr spent his lunch break in a fountain in downtown Portland, Oregon. The 57-year-old works outside picking up trash for the city and had to find a way to cool off.
“This is pretty hot,” Carr said. “I can just take my uniform off, jump in there with my shorts for my break, and hang out for a good 10 or 15 minutes.”
Temperatures soared to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 Celsius) in Oregon’s largest city Tuesday. It is expected to be the hottest day of a heat spell that meteorologists believe will be unusually long for the Pacific Northwest, a region that rarely sees such scorching weather.
Seattle reported a new all-time high for July 26 of 94 F (34.4 C), breaking the previous record of 92 F (33.3 C) from 2018, according to the National Weather Service.
Elsewhere in Washington state, record daily temperatures were also registered in Bellingham and the capital Olympia, which experienced 90 F (32.2 C) and 97 F (36.1 C) respectively.
Oregon health officials said there has been an uptick in the number of people reporting heat-related illness in emergency departments, and the number of those calling emergency services numbers for similar symptoms.
“Heat-related illness daily visits are above expected levels statewide,” said Jonathan Modie, lead communications officer at the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division. He said there were 32 such visits to emergency departments on Monday compared to three to five per day before the heat wave began.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency across much of the state, warning the extreme temperatures may cause utility outages and transportation disruptions
“With many parts of Oregon facing a high heat wave, it is critical that every level of government has the resources they need to help keep Oregonians safe and healthy,” Brown said in a statement.
Portland officials have opened cooling centers in public buildings and installed misting stations in parks. TriMet, which operates public transportation in the Portland metropolitan area, will allow passengers who cannot afford fares to ride for free when heading to cooling centers.
Most of Portland’s garbage companies began earlier pick-ups on Tuesday morning, starting as early as 4 a.m. to reduce drivers’ exposure to heat and health risks. The early rounds will likely continue through Friday morning.
Multnomah County, which includes Portland, plans to open four overnight emergency cooling shelters starting Tuesday night so people who can’t get cool on their own can spend the night. The locations can accommodate a total of 245 guests, said Multnomah County spokesperson Kate Yeiser.
“We’re going to find space for anybody who needs it,” Yeiser said, adding that the sites have a “no-turn-away policy.” She said the county may open an additional overnight center on Wednesday if there is high demand.
Many libraries are extending their hours, staying open until 8 or 9 p.m. to allow people more time to cool off.
As the northwestern U.S. heated up, the hot spell on the East Coast appeared to have broken, with few areas east of the Mississippi River under heat advisories on Tuesday.
Philadelphia hit 99 degrees (37 Celsius) Sunday before factoring in humidity. Newark, New Jersey, marked five consecutive days of 100 degrees or higher, the longest such streak since records began in 1931. Boston also hit 100 degrees, surpassing the previous daily record high of 98 degrees (36.6 Celsius) set in 1933.
On Tuesday, highs peaked in the 80s in New York and Boston.
Residents and officials in the Northwest have been trying to adjust to the likely reality of longer, hotter heat waves following last summer’s deadly “heat dome” weather phenomenon that prompted record temperatures and deaths.
In response, Oregon passed a law requiring all new housing built after April 2024 to have air conditioning installed in at least one room. The law already prohibits landlords in most cases from restricting tenants from installing cooling devices in their rental units.
About 800 people died in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia during the 2021 heat wave in late June and early July. The temperature at the time soared to an all-time high of 116 degrees F (46.7 C) in Portland and smashed heat records in cities and towns across the region. Many of those who died were elderly and lived alone.
While temperatures this week are not expected to get that high, the anticipated number of consecutive hot days has raised concerns among officials.
The National Weather Service has issued an extreme heat warning for large swaths of Oregon and Washington state, including Portland and Seattle, out of concern that nighttime temperatures won’t help residents to sufficiently cool off.
“The main reason for that warning is because of those low temperatures only getting into the 65 to 70 degree range, and the fact that this is such a long duration event,” said Colby Neuman, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Portland.
Portland seems to be on track to “either tying or exceeding” previous heat wave duration records, Neuman said. The record stands at six consecutive days of 95 degrees (35C) or higher, which has only been reached twice before.
Officials in Seattle and Portland have issued air quality advisories from Tuesday through Saturday, warning that smog may reach levels that could be unhealthy for sensitive groups.
Cooling sites are open throughout Seattle, greater King County and throughout western Washington.
In Portland, an emergency cooling shelter provided relief on Tuesday for Rory Lidster, a veteran without housing who described the heat as “uncomfortable.”
“I think these cooling shelters are a real good thing, that the elderly really need them and that all people really need them in this kind of heat,” Lidster said.
The 55-year-old said he has been living in a tent on the street for the past two weeks. He described calling shelters every morning only to find no open spots. Now, he will be able to spend the night at the emergency cooling site, where he hopes to stay “for a little while.”
“As long as we can be, I will be here,” Lidster said.
AP photographer Craig Mitchelldyer contributed. Lisa Baumann contributed from Bellingham, Washington.
Claire Rush is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow her on Twitter.