Heatwave gives us all pause for concern

Beads of sweat ran down my forehead as I walked along a downtown Portland sidewalk with a colleague at lunchtime Aug. 1, my first day of employment at Oregon Environmental Council.

In a state that’s seen its share of drought, I had hoped the near-triple-digit heat under the sun would quickly evaporate the pesky perspiration seeping into my collared shirt. I’m not that lucky.

I mention that minor discomfort because I’ve taken last week’s heatwave, combined with the timing of my new employment, as a message from Mother Nature: Get to work.

Oregon Environmental Council and our partners have great stories coming in the following months. I’ll be sharing climate-related news — and telling a few of my own stories. We hope to continue to show how Oregon residents, businesses and community leaders are working to protect our climate while dealing with the real impacts from today’s climate change.

So keeping with the heat theme, I’m beginning today with a short roundup of stories, mostly local, showing how people and agencies have dealt with the heat.

The first half of the month shattered high-temperature records. Temperatures reached 112 degrees in Medford on Aug. 3, 105 degrees at the Portland International Airport, 103 degrees in Salem and 102 degrees in Eugene, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency said Aug. 3 was the peak of last week’s heatwave in a region that’s seeing more of these stretches of hot temps every year.

A farmer prepares a field on May 11, 2017 off of US 97 just south of Midland.

The Capital Press said berry and grape farmers have been watching for heat-related damages. For example, the heat causes berries to shrivel and prevents green berries from reaching their full size. That means smaller harvests and less income for these growers.

Greg Jones, a climatologist who is also the incoming director of the wine program at Linfield College, believes this summer’s high temps could be the worst since a major heatwave in 1981.

“One conundrum is that even though it is hot and [the heat] should facilitate ripening, it might actually slow it down as the vines often do not get fully back to 100 percent functioning for some time after a heat event like this,” he said.

• Last Friday, workers harvesting peaches near Medford had to stop working at noon because of the heat and smoke from a nearby wildfire, according to the Mail Tribune. The excessive heat can stall the growth of pears and even sunburn the fruit, turning the normally red Comice pear to more of a brown piece of fruit.

Ron Meyer, a longtime orchardist, told the Mail Tribune he had only felt temperatures reach break 110 degrees twice: last week and 65 years ago.

The good news is still a balancing. “The warm weather actually makes the peaches more flavorful … When it gets hot during peach picking, you have to be on top of the harvest,” Meyer said. “Otherwise, you get overripe fruit.”

A July 2017 view of Mt. Hood from Boca Cave captures a wildfire at the base of the Mountain.

• Outdoor whitewater rafters may also find some bad news. “Epic recreation” opportunities have dried up this summer at the John Day, Crooked and Deschutes rivers because water levels have fallen below rafting levels, according to OPB.

Oregonians this winter saw a healthy level of precipitation and a snowpack that should have provided decent levels for rivers, but federal experts say the summer’s heat has pretty much negated the positive impact of Mother Nature’s generous rain and snow, according to OPB.

“Normally we have a little bit of precipitation in the late spring through June before we shift into drier summer months,” said Scott Oviatt of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “[That], in addition to extreme heat and lack of precipitation, have aggregated the drop in stream flow volumes.”

According to the NW Climate Impact assessment, rainier springs and drier summers will be our new normal.

• And in Portland, the heat caused slower travel times for MAX riders. TriMet, which operates most of the Rose City’s public transportation, said MAX trains would be traveling slower. The agency told the Portland Tribune trains would travel no faster than 35 miles per hour when temperatures exceed 100. The Portland and Western Railroad will stop all service once temps surpass 105 degrees.

Residents and businesses have used more energy this summer than any before, according to The Oregonian/OregonLive. Bonneville Power Administration customers used more than 8,000 megawatts on three separate days, shattering the daily 7,861-megawatt record set in the summer of 2014.  Portland General Electric customers almost broke a 1998 record set in the winter.

• National media buzzed last week about the final draft of the National Climate Assessment’s science section, which was published by The New York Times before the federal government’s intended release date.

In Oregon, Washington and Idaho, the average annual temperature has risen by 1.5 degrees since the 1901-1960 mean, according to the Associated Press, which summarized portions of the National Climate Assessment, a report that was set to be published later this year. If nothing is done to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases, temperatures will continue to rise another 4.67 degrees by the middle of the century, according to the AP.

All parts of the US have warmed in the last 30 years. Below, I’ve made a pair to charts using a few figures pulled from a graphic in the New York Time’s short “9 Takeaways From The National Climate Report” to show how the Pacific Northwest compares with other regions of the county. You’ll notice the largest changes have occurred in the western parts of the country where the average temps jumped by more than 1.5 degrees across the Northwest, Southwest and Northern Great Plains.


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2 Replies to "Heatwave gives us all pause for concern"

  • Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)
    August 16, 2017 (8:50 pm)

    Dear Tony,

    You missed some very important points. Although heat waves such as our recent one are rather rare, they have occurred many times in the past. Our last major one was not in 1981 but in 2009, when we reached 106 F two days in a row. This time we only made it to 105 F for a single day. 1981 and 1965 saw record highs at the Portland Airport of 107 F, twice in 1981and once in 1965. But as far back as we have records at the Portland Airport, we see similar heat waves.


    In 1942 Portland set record highs for three days in a row that still stand today. It reached 105 F on July 1st, weeks before the peak of the summer heat. And on September 2, 1988 it reached 105 F well after the peak of the summer heat. The summer of 1941 was also very hot. The record highs for July 13, 14, and 15 were all set in 1941 (101, 103, 103 F). If we had records going back into the Dust Bowl of the 1930s at the Portland Airport, we would surely see more extreme heat. 1934 saw record heat in our area.

    The takeaway from all of this is that our climate is cyclical, due primarily to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation over periods of the order of decades. There is no discernible temperature signal from the man-made CO2 that increased after World War II.

    Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)
    Corbett, Oregon USA

  • JimL
    August 23, 2017 (3:34 pm)

    “Gordon Fulks PhD who apparently takes no money for his opinion despite representing a couple of ‘thinktanks’ as an expert always leaves his email address with each publication- just in case, perhaps if one is being cynical, to able to accept any offer to get paid as an expert rather than doing it for free. Gordon Fulks has done little with his astrophysics PhD but is does notionally allow him to call himself an astrophysicist which he does on occasion. Science has no political colour but scientists do and for conservative rightwing the threats and solutions to AGW can be seen as threats to the free market but the denial movement also offers a lucrative income for retired scientists especially if they can cite a PhD in a climate related subject.

    The market for skeptical scientists to write op-eds, do speaking tours to the converted and making television appearances is crowded with several non scientists acting as a counter-point to Al Gore. However, Gordon Fulks PhD Astrophysicist has directed his passion in opposition to alternative energy, restrictions of the free market and the scam of AGW to defend those he thinks are victims of the dogma of Climate Change”