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Rolling blackouts hit Pacific Northwest as cities swelter in record-breaking heat wave

A worker in a hard hat stands near a lift as he works on a future light rail station.
A crew works outdoors south of Seattle on Tuesday. Amid record heat, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was urged to immediately issue emergency heat standards protecting farm and other outdoor workers in the state.
(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

The unprecedented Northwest U.S. heat wave that slammed Seattle and Portland, Oregon, moved inland Tuesday — prompting a electrical utility in Spokane, Washington, to warn that people will face more rolling blackouts amid heavy power demand.

The intense weather that gave Seattle and Portland consecutive days of record-high temperatures exceeding 100 degrees was expected to ease in those cities. But inland Spokane was likely to surpass Monday’s high temperature — a record-tying 105.

About 8,200 utility customers in parts of Spokane lost power on Monday, and Avista Utilities warned that there would be more rolling blackouts Tuesday afternoon in the city of about 220,000 people, with the high temperature predicted at 110, which would be an all-time record.

Avista had to implement deliberate blackouts on Monday because “the electric system experienced a new peak demand, and the strain of the high temperatures impacted the system in a way that required us to proactively turn off power for some customers,” said Dennis Vermillion, company president and chief executive. “This happened faster than anticipated.”

Customers should expect more “targeted protective outages” Tuesday, he said.

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A high of 117 degrees was predicted for the southeastern Washington cities of Richland, Kennewick and Pasco. The state’s highest-ever recorded temperature was 118 degrees, in 1961.

The United Farm Workers urged Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to immediately issue emergency heat standards protecting all farm and other outdoor workers in the state, which has a strong agricultural sector. Washington’s current heat standards fall short of safeguards the UFW first won in California in 2005 that have prevented deaths and illnesses from heat stroke, the union said in a statement.

Parts of Southern California could experience a surge of monsoonal storms Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing the potential for lightning and flash flooding. Here’s what you need to know.

Unlike workers in California, Washington farmworkers do not have the right to work shade and breaks amid extreme temperatures.

“I was off today, so I was helping distribute water and information to the cherry harvesters,” said Martha Acevedo, a wine-grape worker from Sunnyside, Wash., in a union statement. “They were struggling. No shade, not even cold water.”

Garbage collectors in Walla Walla started their shifts at 3 a.m. instead of the usual 7 a.m. in an effort to beat the heat.

Seattle was cooler Tuesday, with temperatures expected to reach about 90 degrees after registering 108 on Monday — well above Sunday’s all-time high of 104. Portland, Ore., reached 116 degrees after hitting records of 108 on Saturday and 112 Sunday.

President Biden, during an infrastructure speech in Wisconsin, took note of the Northwest as he spoke about the need to be prepared for extreme weather.

“Anybody ever believe you’d turn on the news and see it’s 116 degrees in Portland, Ore.? 116 degrees,” the president said, working in a dig at those who cast doubt on the reality of climate change. “But don’t worry — there is no global warming because it’s just a figment of our imaginations.”

State leaders in climate change and water resources warn that California’s drought is already causing dire conditions for people, plants, animals and land.

The heat wave was caused by what meteorologists described as a dome of high pressure over the Northwest and worsened by human-caused climate change, which is making such extreme weather events more likely and more intense.

The temperatures have been unheard of in a region better known for rain, and where June has historically been referred to as “Juneuary” for its cool drizzle. Seattle’s average high temperature in June is around 70, and fewer than half of the city’s residents have air conditioning, according to U.S. Census data.


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