Surge of deaths, hospitalizations in U.S., Canada due to historic West Coast heat wave

·Reporter
·4-min read

An unprecedented heat wave in the Pacific Northwest this week sent more than 1,000 people to emergency rooms and has been linked to at least 233 reported deaths in Canada.

Portland, Ore., reached 116 degrees on Monday, a record-breaking high temperature for the city. Seattle, which has had only two other days in the last 50 years with temperatures in the triple digits, also reached a record high of 108 degrees on Monday.

The area is now cooling off, with Portland seeing its biggest overnight temperature drop on record, from 116 to 64 degrees, between Monday evening and Tuesday morning. However, the effects of the heat wave have been consequential.

According to an Oregon Health Authority report published on Tuesday, 459 people have gone to the emergency room or an urgent care clinic due to the excessive heat. There were at least 250 hospital visits on Monday alone, when temperatures were at their highest.

In Washington state, at least 676 people visited emergency rooms for heat-related illnesses between Friday and Sunday, with 81 of the visits leading to inpatient admission, Cory Portner, a spokesperson for the state’s department of health, told BuzzFeed News. This number is striking against the state’s past data, which shows that heat-related hospitalizations surpassed 51 patients per year only twice between 2000 and 2018.

Tracy Wallace, 42, puts ice cold cloths on her forehead and chest to stay cool at the Sunrise Center cooling center in Portland, Oregon on June 27, 2021. (Alisha Jucevic/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Tracy Wallace, 42, puts cold cloths on her forehead and chest to stay cool at the Sunrise Center cooling center in Portland, Ore., on June 27. (Alisha Jucevic/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A number of fatalities have also been linked to the surge in temperatures. The King County Medical Examiner’s Office in Washington reports that at least two people died from hyperthermia, a condition in which the body’s temperature becomes abnormally high, including a 65-year-old Seattle woman and a 68-year old woman from Enumclaw, a city south of Seattle, according to the Seattle Times.

Three more heat-related deaths were confirmed in Snohomish County, Wash., on Tuesday, all of whom were men, ages 51, 75 and 77.

In Oregon, state officials on Wednesday linked more than 60 deaths to the heat, the Associated Press reported. That includes 45 deaths in Multnomah County, the state's largest county, since Friday, according to the county medical examiner's office, which said the preliminary cause of death is hyperthermia.

The heat also claimed the life of an Oregon farmworker who died on a worksite in St. Paul on Saturday, according to state officials. “The employee was working on a crew moving irrigation lines. At the end of the shift he was found unresponsive in the field,” Aaron Corvin, a spokesperson for the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division told the Salem Reporter.

A little north of Seattle, Vancouver, B.C., has also been significantly affected by the heat wave.

“The Coroners Service would normally receive approximately 130 reports of death over a four-day period. From Friday, June 25 through 3 p.m. on Monday, June 28, at least 233 deaths were reported. This number will increase as data continues to be updated.” Lisa Lapointe, British Columbia’s chief coroner, said in a statement.

A sign warns of extreme heat danger at the salt flats of Badwater Basin inside Death Valley National Park in California on June 17. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)
A sign warns of extreme heat danger at the salt flats of Badwater Basin inside Death Valley National Park in California on June 17. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

Lyfton, British Columbia, a village 162 miles northeast of Vancouver, recorded an all-time high temperature for Canada, reaching 121 degrees on Tuesday — which is comparable to Phoenix’s all-time high temperature of 122 degrees.

Vancouver Police have announced that front-line resources are depleted and response times are severely delayed as a result of the sudden influx of heat-related deaths.

These Northern cities, where average June temperatures are in the 70s, are underprepared to combat the heat. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 78 percent of Portland homes have primary air conditioning installed, while Seattle has an even lower number, with 44 percent of homes.

Visitors walk past the thermometer at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center in Death Valley, California, U.S., on Thursday, June 17, 2021.(Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Visitors walk past the thermometer at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center in Death Valley, Calif., on June 17. (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A lack of air conditioning is a risk factor for heatstroke, especially if temperatures rise to 104 degrees or higher, per the Mayo Clinic Website. Heatstroke does not cause death directly, but it can induce other, potentially fatal conditions, including cardiac events, respiratory problems and kidney disease.

The unprecedented Northwest heat wave has been caused by what is called a “heat dome,” a ridge of high pressure in the atmosphere that prevents weather from moving and compresses the air on the ground. Due to climate change, however, this occurrence of extreme temperatures may be the first of many.

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