Washington Electrical Utility Warns of Rolling Blackouts as Temps Again hit Triple Digits

Triple-digit temperatures in the Northwest U.S. that hit Seattle and Portland, Ore. are moving inland as of Tuesday, prompting an electrical utility serving Spokane, Wash. to warn residents of impending blackouts.

Seattle and Portland experienced back-to-back days of record heat, with temperatures surpassing 100 degrees. As the heatwave travels away from those cities and toward inland Spokane, meteorologists are predicting temperatures as high as 105 degrees.

More than 8,000 customers serviced by Avista Utilities in Spokane lost power Monday, and the utility company warned that more blackouts are to come on Tuesday as temperatures in the city of 220,000 people reach 110 degrees, an all-time record.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Portland Heat
Kids play in the Salmon Springs Fountain on June 27, 2021 in Portland, Ore. Record breaking temperatures lingered over the Northwest during a historic heatwave this weekend. Nathan Howard/Getty Images

Avista had planned for much higher than normal demand but hit its limit quicker than anticipated because of the intense heat, said Heather Rosentrater, the company's senior vice president for energy delivery, said Monday night.

Temperatures in other eastern Washington and Oregon communities could reach about 115 degrees Tuesday, a day after Seattle and Portland shattered all-time heat records.

Seattle hit 108 degrees by Monday evening — well above Sunday's all-time high of 104 degrees. Portland, Ore., reached 116 degrees after hitting records of 108 degrees on Saturday and 112 degrees on Sunday.

The temperatures have been unheard of in a region better known for rain, and where June has historically been referred to as "Juneuary" for its cool drizzle. Seattle's average high temperature in June is around 70 degrees, and fewer than half of the city's residents have air conditioning, according to U.S. Census data.

The heat forced schools and businesses on Monday to close to protect workers and guests, including some places like outdoor pools and ice cream shops where people seek relief from the heat. COVID-19 testing sites and mobile vaccination units were out of service as well.

The Seattle Parks Department closed one indoor community pool after the air inside became too hot — leaving Stanlie James, who relocated from Arizona three weeks ago, to search for somewhere else to cool off. She doesn't have AC at her condo, she said.

"Part of the reason I moved here was not only to be near my daughter but also to come in the summer to have relief from Arizona heat," James said. "And I seem to have brought it with me. So I'm not real thrilled."

The heat wave was caused by what meteorologists described as a dome of high pressure over the Northwest and worsened by human-caused climate change, which is making such extreme weather events more likely and more intense.

Zeke Hausfather, a scientist at the climate-data nonprofit Berkeley Earth, said that the Pacific Northwest has warmed by about 3 degrees in the past half-century.

That means a heat wave now is about 3 degrees warmer than it would have been before — and the difference between 111 degrees and 114 is significant, especially for vulnerable populations, he noted.

"In a world without climate change, this still would have been a really extreme heat wave," Hausfather said. "This is worse than the same event would have been 50 years ago, and notably so."

The blistering heat exposed a region with infrastructure not designed for it, hinting at the greater costs of climate change to come.

"We are not meant for this," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in an interview on MSNBC.

He added that "we have to tackle the source of this problem, which is climate change."

In Portland, light rail and streetcar service was suspended on Monday as power cables melted and electricity demand spiked.

Heat-related expansion caused road pavement to buckle or pop loose in many areas, including a Seattle highway. Workers in tanker trucks hosed down drawbridges with water twice daily to prevent the steel from expanding in the heat and interfering with their opening and closing mechanisms.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said in a statement that the Northwest heat illustrated an urgent need for the upcoming federal infrastructure package to promote clean energy, cut greenhouse gas emissions and protect people from extreme heat.

"Washington state was not built for triple-digit temperatures," she said.

Heat Wave
The sun shines near the Space Needle, Monday, June 28, 2021, in Seattle. Seattle and other cities broke all-time heat records over the weekend, with temperatures soaring well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Ted S. Warren/AP Photo