November 28, 2023

People rest in the cooling station at the Oregon Convention Center in Oregon, Portland, as a heat wave sweeps across much of the United States on June 28, 2021.

Kathryn Elsesser | AFP | Getty Images

The historic heat wave that scorched much of the Pacific Northwest and caused record temperatures in Canada has been blamed for hundreds of deaths in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia over the past week.

The Oregon state coroner’s office said the extreme heat has killed at least 63 people in the state since Friday; 45 of these deaths were reported in Multnomah County, which includes Portland. Temperatures in the region hit a record high of 116 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dr. Multnomah County’s health officer Jennifer Vines said the preliminary cause of death is hyperthermia, an abnormally high body temperature that results from the body’s inability to handle heat. Many of the dead were found alone and without air conditioning.

“This has been a real health crisis that has shown how deadly an extreme heat wave can be, especially for people who are otherwise at risk,” Vines said in a statement.

“I know that many of the county’s residents have taken care of each other and I am deeply saddened by this initial death toll,” said Vines. “As our summers get warmer and warmer, I suspect we will face these types of events again.”

Shanton Alcaraz of the Salvation Army’s Northwest Division gives Eddy Norby, who lives in an RV, bottled water and loads him during a heatwave in Seattle, Washington, the United States, on Jan.

Karen Ducey | Reuters

British Columbia chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said at least 486 sudden deaths had been reported between Friday and Wednesday and the number would rise. The death toll represents a 195% increase from the approximately 165 deaths that would normally occur in the province over a five-day period.

“While it is too early to be certain how many of these deaths are heat-related, it is believed that the significant increase in reported deaths was due to the extreme weather that BC experienced,” Lapointe said in a statement .

In King County, Washington, which also includes Seattle, nearly a dozen people died from the heat on Wednesday, according to the coroner. Two people were also found dead in their homes on Tuesday in Spokane, Washington, from apparent heat-related stress.

“We can’t just turn up the AC; we must step up our efforts to address the underlying cause of our changing world – climate change, “Washington Governor Jay Inslee wrote in a comment in the Seattle Times on Tuesday.

“Our recent discomfort is only the tip of the melting iceberg,” wrote Inslee. “What we’ve felt this week is just the beginning of an emerging global catastrophe.”

Man-made climate change is causing more frequent and violent heat waves in the US This week’s high temperatures are also coming as the west grapples with the worst drought conditions in two decades.

Isis Givens-Guttierrez, 9, cools off at Georgetown Playfield Splash Park during a heat wave in Seattle, Washington, USA on June 26, 2021.

Karen Ducey | Reuters

Recent research has shown that more than a third of global heat-related deaths in warm seasons are due to climate change. In the US, heat kills more people than any other weather disaster.

During heat waves, as the earth warms, lower nighttime temperatures also disappear, which can provide relief from hot daytime temperatures and put people who do not have air conditioning in their homes at risk.

President Joe Biden holds a forest fire briefing with cabinet members, government officials, and several western state governors including Oregon Governor Kate Brown (on screen) at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC, ahead of the wildfire season. 06/30/2021.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden said in a meeting with Western governors on Wednesday that climate change has created a dangerous combination of extreme heat and prolonged drought, and that the US is significantly behind in developing ways to combat worsening forest fires.

“Right now we have to act, and act quickly,” said the president during the meeting that was attended by the governors of Oregon, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Washington, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. “The truth is we’re playing catching up.”

According to the World Meteorological Organization, the earth has already warmed up by more than 1 degree Celsius compared to the pre-industrial level. Scientists have consistently pushed for an immediate reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst effects of global warming.