Heat Wave - Oregon heat wave death toll grows to 116
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January 24 2022
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Heat Wave

Oregon heat wave death toll grows to 116


Story by KGW Staff

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Published on September 24, 2021 6:36 AM
 
PORTLAND, Oregon. — The number of people in Oregon who died during the historic heat wave that began last month has grown to 116, the state medical examiner said Wednesday.

The majority of deaths reported by the state so far are in Multnomah County, Oregon's most populous. At least 72 people there have died due to heat since June 25.

Marion County has reported 13 deaths, Clackamas County has reported 12 deaths, Washington County has reported nine deaths, Deschutes County has reported two deaths, Linn County has reported three deaths, Columbia County has reported two deaths, and Umatilla, Union and Polk counties have reported one death each.

The number of deaths could continue to grow as counties report more information.

The heat wave began Friday, June 25. Portland set new heat records on three consecutive days, peaking at 116 degrees on June 28.

In Multnomah County, most of the people who died had underlying health conditions, officials said...

Background

Heat wave

A heat wave, or heatwave, is a period of excessively hot weather, which may be accompanied by high humidity, especially in oceanic climate countries. While definitions vary, a heat wave is usually measured relative to the usual weather in the area and relative to normal temperatures for the season. Temperatures that people from a hotter climate consider normal can be called a heat wave in a cooler area if they are outside the normal climate pattern for that area.

The term is applied both to hot weather variations and to extraordinary spells of hot which may occur only once a century. Severe heat waves have caused catastrophic crop failures, thousands of deaths from hyperthermia, and widespread power outages due to increased use of air conditioning. A heat wave is considered extreme weather that can be a natural disaster, and a danger because heat and sunlight may overheat the human body. Heat waves can usually be detected using forecasting instruments so that a warning call can be issued.

Oregon

On June 26, Portland broke its previous all-time record high temperature of 107 °F , set in July 1965 and August 1981, with a temperature of 108 °F . It topped that record again on June 27, with a temperature of 112 °F . The following day, the temperature increased further to 116 °F . These extremes also beat the previous record June temperature, 102 °F set on June 26, 2006.

Salem, Oregon, reached 105 °F degrees on June 26, its record high temperature for June. It then hit 113 °F degrees on June 27, breaking the record for the highest temperature ever recorded in that city, which was previously 108 °F . Salem then exceeded the previous day's record temperature on June 28, with a maximum temperature of 117 °F . However, not all the regions of the mid-Willamette Valley experienced extreme heat on June 28. Regions south of Salem, for example, had not seen highs above mid-90s Fahrenheit on that day, likely due to cooler ocean air in the area.

The Willamette Valley also experienced extreme overnight temperature drops due to cooler air coming from the ocean – Portland cooled a record 52 °F during the night, while Salem almost approached its all-time largest temperature swing, from 117 °F to 61 °F .

Deaths and injuries

Over 1,000 deaths occurred due to the direct consequences of the heat wave . Most of the deaths occurred in Canada – about 600 more deaths than usual were noted in British Columbia and 66 in Alberta. It is yet unknown whether any of these in Alberta are related to the heat wave, but the Chief Coroner of British Columbia stated that 569 casualties could be attributed to it. She also said that during the five years preceding the event, only three heat-related casualties were registered. Among the deaths reported to the coroner of the province, Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health authorities have seen several times more deceased than usual, while Vancouver Island and Interior Health have noted double the expected number of dead during the week from June 25 to July 1. Most of the deaths were registered on June 29.

In the United States, the death toll was lower but still going into hundreds: at least 116 people were confirmed to have died due to heat-related causes in Oregon , at least 112 in Washington and one in Idaho. The New York Times analysis suggested that almost 450 excess deaths in Washington and 160 deaths in Oregon occurred during the heat wave, though it is uncertain how many of them are related to the heat. For comparison, there were only 12 heat-related deaths in Oregon in 2017–2019. Most of the deaths occurred among the elderly. On July 13, 2021, Multnomah County, Oregon published an analysis which estimated that a majority of deaths occurred in households which had no air conditioning or only had fans.

In addition to that, hospitals witnessed a surge of 9-1-1 heat-related calls and emergency department visits. More than 1,100 people were hospitalized in Oregon and Washington; and almost 2,800 heat-related emergency department visits were made on July 25-30. Washington Department of Health estimated that over 2,000 such visits occurred statewide , while in Portland, hospitals saw the number of calls and the time of response to an emergency call double, which was a record workload for the area. On the other hand, in Oregon, while the number of heat-related visits skyrocketed, the total number of emergency visits stayed in the expected range.

In British Columbia, E-Comm emergency dispatchers answered nearly 15,300 calls on June 26-27, which was about 55 percent above normal for the month, and also deployed the ambulances 1,850 times on June 27 and 1,975 the following day - the highest number ever recorded for the province. Delays for non-emergency calls reached up to 16 hours in extreme cases. In addition to that, some ambulances were left inoperable as the emergency service was understaffed. These setbacks led to hours-long delays. The handling of the crisis drew criticism from the paramedics unions, which forced Adrian Dix, the provincial healthcare minister, to change the leader of British Columbia's emergencies response management to Jim Chu, former Vancouver's police chief, and to appoint a chief ambulance officer.

Some deaths also occurred among those seeking cooling in the Pacific Northwest's rivers. Two swimmers in Salem, who were trying to escape the heat, went missing in the Willamette River, another did so in Portland, while in Washington, three people drowned.

Non-emergency municipal services were also strained—on June 26, the non-emergency health information service did not respond to 750 heat-related calls due to lack of working staff.

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