August 17, 2008

Heat Could Be Historic


Makenzie Vonk, 3, from Vancouver, is unable to keep her SpongeBob SquarePants Popsicle from melting while listening to Johnny Limbo and the Lugnuts perform Thursday evening at Esther Short Park.

Triple-digit heat arrived in the Portland-Vancouver area Thursday, and forecasters don't expect cooling relief until Sunday at the earliest.

When the temperature cracked 100 by 4 p.m. en route to a high of 102, the city of Vancouver scrambled to make available "cooling centers" for residents who may not have air conditioning. The Luepke Senior Center and Marshal Community Center, 1009 E. McLoughlin, and the Firstenburg Community Center, 700 N.E. 136th Ave., will be open for anyone who needs relief.

The centers encourage people, particularly seniors and children, to stay in an air-conditioned environment.

"We want to make it available," said Tami Kihs, the city's emergency management coordinator. "And there's two nice pools available at both of these facilities."

Today's high temperature could equal Vancouver's all-time high of 105 degrees.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see 104 or 105," said Charles Dalton with the National Weather Service in Portland.

AccuWeather, a weather service used by The Columbian, predicts a high of 101 today.

Meanwhile, both wildland and urban firefighters are on a heightened state of alert.

Vancouver firefighter-spokesman Jim Flaherty said firefighters are prepared to jump quickly on grass fires that could quickly threaten structures. Several weeks into a drier-than-normal summer, firefighters say even a single cigarette butt carelessly flicked out of a window could create a major problem.

"Your car's got an ashtray," Flaherty said. "Use it."

Human-caused fires aren't the only threat facing a broiling landscape. Forecasters are calling for thunderstorms, carrying the dreaded potential for dry lightning to rake across the Oregon and Washington Cascades by this weekend.

John Townsley, a spokesman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland, said manpower and equipment are staged and ready to be mobilized quickly. Elite "hotshot" fire crews have been asked to rest up for the next day or so.

"When and if we get the lightning, then they'll be in pretty good condition to get right with it," Townsley said.

The risk of wildfire presents hazards both from a safety and a budgetary standpoint. Last month's Mount Adams-area wildfire, which unfurled an eruption-like smoke plume visible 60 miles away in Vancouver, has so far racked up $10 million in firefighting costs.

On top of the fire hazard and heat-related health effects, air quality authorities made their own addition to the general misery index by issuing an air-health advisory.

The Southwest Clean Air Agency in Vancouver, along with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, warned that the hot weather may create smog, especially in the late afternoon and early evening.

They warned people with asthma and other lung problems to stay indoors, while calling on residents to curtail driving, avoid using aerosol sprays and park gas-powered mowers until the heat breaks. All of those activities spew exhaust into the air, adding to the smog problem.

The daytime heat won't dissipate much overnight, with lows hovering near 70 degrees.

"This air mass is just so hot, we can't expect it to cool down overnight," said Michael Goss, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Portland. "We just have a really strong ridge over us."

The heat wave will break slightly by Sunday, he said, when marine air begins to work its way inland from the Pacific Ocean. Until then, most of inland Washington and Oregon will sizzle.

"The coast should be the place to be," Goss said.

Keeping your cool

Drink up: Drink plenty of water, even if you don't feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can dehydrate. Really cold drinks may cause stomach cramps.

Take it easy: At least minimize your exposure to heavy-duty yardwork if you can put it off until the cooler evening or morning hours.

Find the A/C: Go to a library, walk in the mall, see a movie. All of these places have air-conditioning. Simply blowing hot air with an electric fan isn't going to cut it; taking a cool shower or bath is a better bet.

Use your head: Parking lots are hot, so do not leave your child or pet in a sweltering automobile. Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

Be neighborly: Look in on elderly friends, family or neighbors.

Vancouver temperatures and records

Thursday: 102 degrees. Record high temperature for the date: 103 in 1933.

Today: Forecast is 102. Record high for the date: 96 in 1967.

Saturday: Forecast is 98. Record high for the date: 102 in 1940.

All-time high for Vancouver: 105 degrees on July 29, 1907.

Originally published by ERIK ROBINSON Columbian staff writer.

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