The death toll from the unprecedented heat wave that hit the United States’ Pacific Northwest last week has risen to nearly 200, with health authorities reporting 116 deaths in Oregon and 78 in Washington state.
The data from Washington state is particularly surprising given the historical context. There were seven heat-related deaths in Washington between mid-June and late August 2020. Between 2015 and 2020, the state saw only 39 deaths in the late spring and summer months.
“This huge increase in mortality due to heat is tragic and something that many people thought they would never see in the Pacific Northwest with its mostly moderate climate,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, acting state health official for Washington, saying in a sentence. “But climates are changing, and we see evidence of that with dramatic weather events, major floods, historic wildfires, and more.”
In Oregon, the majority of deaths occurred in Portland’s Multnomah County; many of those who died lacked air conditioning or fans, and succumbed only to the heat. The youngest victim was 37 years old and the oldest was 97 years old. according to Associated Press.
On Tuesday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown directed agencies to review how the state can improve its handling of heat emergencies. Brown also enacted emergency regulations to protect workers from the heat, following the June 26 death of a farm worker in rural Oregon.
The heat wave, which also hit western Canada, is also believed to have killed about 500 people in British Columbia and fueled hundreds of wildfires that are currently burning in the province.
During the heat wave, temperatures broke previous records in many municipalities; in some areas, they exceeded 115F (46C). Forecasters said the weather event was triggered by two pressure systems.
“The Pacific Northwest got stuck in a region where a series of feedbacks established these very warm temperatures, no, warm temperatures, with very little cloud cover, and very warm temperatures at night as well,” Richard Bann, meteorologist at the National Forecast Center of the Weather Service, he previously told The Guardian.
New data on deaths arrive as a new analysis found that the deadly heat wave would have been “virtually impossible without human-caused climate change,” which added several degrees more to the scorching record temperatures. The researchers behind the World Weather Attribution study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed but is based on a peer-reviewed methodology, write that “The observed temperatures were so extreme that they are well outside the range of historically observed temperatures.”
“This makes it difficult to confidently quantify how rare the event was,” they said, noting that even in an environment that is enduring the climate crisis, such a historic heat wave remains a unique meteorological event in a millennium. However, if climate change were to increase another 0.8 ° C, it could happen every five to 10 years, the study said.
Experts have also said that more than a billion marine animals on Canada’s Pacific coast are likely to have died due to extreme heat. Christopher Harley, a biologist at the University of British Columbia, said a walk along a Vancouver-area beach underscored the extreme loss of marine life.
“The shore doesn’t usually creak when you walk on it. But there were so many empty mussel shells everywhere that I just couldn’t help stepping on dead animals while walking, ”Harley previously told The Guardian.
The massive death of shellfish would temporarily affect water quality, as clams and mussels help filter the sea, keeping the water clear enough for sunlight to reach the seagrass beds, in turn creating habitats of other species, Harley said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism