To Avoid Death, Northwestern U.S. Finally Embraces Air-Conditioning

(p. A15) SEATTLE — Road crews sprayed water on century-old bridges in Seattle on Thursday to keep the steel from expanding in the sizzling heat. In Portland, Ore., where heat has already killed dozens of people this summer, volunteers delivered water door to door. Restaurants and even some ice cream shops decided it was too hot to open.

For the second time this summer, a part of the country known for its snow-capped mountains and fleece-clad inhabitants was enduring a heat wave so intense that it threatened lives and critical infrastructure.

. . .

It is not just a matter of comfort. The region is still tallying a death toll from the June heat wave, and mortality data analyzed by The New York Times shows that about 600 more people died in Washington and Oregon during that week than would have been typical.

Officials in Portland’s Multnomah County pointed to a lack of air conditioning in homes as a key factor in deaths. Unlike large swaths of the country where air conditioning is now standard, many in the Pacific Northwest live without such relief. Just 44 percent of residents in Seattle reported having some sort of air conditioning in 2019, although those numbers have been on the rise, with installers struggling to keep up with demand.

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The warming particularly threatens residents of low-income neighborhoods. During the last heat wave, Vivek Shandas, a professor of climate adaptation at Portland State University, went to the poorest parts of the city with a calibrated thermometer and got a reading of 121 degrees, five degrees higher than the official high for the day, recorded at the airport.

For the full story see:

Mike Baker and Sergio Olmos. “Broiling Today, Northwest Knows It Must Adapt for a Hotter Tomorrow.” The New York Times (Saturday, August 14, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Aug. 13, 2021, and has the title “The Pacific Northwest, Built for Mild Summers, Is Scorching Yet Again.”

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