Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said Sunday that too many people in the state died during the unprecedented heat wave that settled over the Pacific Northwest last week, warning the climate change-fueled temperature extremes were only a “harbinger of things to come.”
At least 95 people died across Oregon due to the temperature surge last week, which saw Portland hit an unprecedented 118 degrees Fahrenheit, the third temperature record set in a three-day period. The heat dome saw decades-old records fall up and down the West Coast, prompting dayslong emergency warnings in a region where many residents don’t have air conditioning.
Officials worked hard to warn Oregonians about the threat of such weather and set up cooling centers around the state, Brown told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” But dozens still died, which the governor said was “absolutely unacceptable.”
“We have been working to prepare for climate change in this state for a number of years,” Brown said. “What was unprecedented, of course, was the three days of record-breaking heat, and it was horrific to see over 90 Oregonians lose their lives.”
Brown said the state needed to better protect residents, particularly those in vulnerable communities.
“What is really, really clear, that just like we saw during the pandemic, throughout these emergency events are communities of color, our low-income families are disproportionately impacted,” she said. “We have to center the voices of Black and brown and Indigenous people at the forefront of our work as we do emergency preparedness.”
The governor also said she was concerned such heat waves and other climate-related disasters would only become more common. She pointed to recent emergency declarations, including one last year during the region’s historic wildfire season.
Scientists have long warned that climate change will only exacerbate natural disasters and make them more frequent, and some were quick to link the heat dome to global warming.
“We’ve long known that a warming climate would yield more extremely hot weather,” Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State, and Susan Hassol, director of the group Climate Communication, wrote in The New York Times last week. “The science is clear on how human-caused climate change is already affecting heat waves: Global warming has caused them to be hotter, larger, longer and more frequent. What were once very rare events are becoming more common.”