ENVIRONMENT

Pacific Northwest Heat Wave Is Buckling Roads And Melting Power Cables

Temperature records are shattering across a region that rarely deals with intense heat.

A blistering heat wave is scorching the Pacific Northwest this week, shattering temperature records and damaging infrastructure across a region usually known for its mild climate. 

Portland, Oregon’s most populous city, broke its heat record of 108 degrees on Sunday when the temperature topped out at 112, and it may hit 115 on Monday. Salem, the state’s capital, broke its heat record two days in a row, with the temperature hitting 113 degrees on Sunday and 114 on Monday. 

Temperatures were slightly lower in Washington, in part due to a marine layer moving in off the coast. Still, Seattle on Monday marked the first time on record it has had three consecutive days of triple-digit weather. 

The heat wave has brought some unusual problems to the region, where temperatures are typically low enough year-round that many people don’t have air conditioning in their homes. 

The Portland Streetcar, which serves downtown Portland, shut down service Sunday and plans to stay closed until at least Tuesday morning. The service posted a photo of a melted power cable on Sunday to explain the disruption. 

The city’s MAX Light Rail Service shut down, too, explaining that high temperatures were straining the power grid and the overhead wires that power its trains. 

Communities affected by the heat wave are also dealing with roadways buckling from the heat, making them unsafe to travel on. It also raises the risk of sinkholes that can be caused by thermal expansion, in which concrete or asphalt gets so hot it begins to expand with nowhere to go but up. 

The effects on transportation can make it harder for people to seek refuge from the heat at cooling centers or at the homes of friends or relatives who have air conditioning. While about 91% of U.S. homes have air conditioning, just 78% of homes in Portland and 44% of homes in Seattle do.