Summer in the Inland Northwest has felt a little cooler than usual until this week and hot temperatures may be here to stay.
Rocco Pelatti, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Spokane office, said this year has mostly been missing a key weather pattern that creates the long stretches of stagnant heat typical to a Spokane-area summer.
Most years, a high pressure system will arise near the Four Corners area of the Southwest and gradually drift around the western states, Pelatti said, causing hot, dry weather wherever it lingers. Then a different weather system will sweep in, bringing wind and cooler temperatures to break the monotony.
“Those kinds of blocking patterns have been really hard to maintain this summer, and people much smarter than me haven’t pinned down why,” Pelatti said.
The weather this summer can best be described as a roller coaster, according to Pelatti, where the long waves of unbroken moderate weather are broken at random by “peaks” of more extreme temperatures.
Eastern Washington and North Idaho is experiencing one of those peaks this week, with temperatures in Spokane on Monday reaching steadily into the nineties for the first time this year, Pelatti said. Today will be the hottest day of the week according to NWS predictions, with a high of 95 degrees.
The last two weeks of July are reliably the hottest of the season, Pelatti said. But that’s pretty late in the year to finally be getting to the nineties, Pelatti said – most of the time, the region would have hit that benchmark by early July.
“Ninety-five degrees is not far from what we’re used to most summers here, but the concern is people not getting enough time to acclimate,” Pelatti said.
With temperatures suddenly climbing higher, Pelatti said he would expect paramedics to see an uptick in heat-related emergencies among vulnerable populations. He urged residents to follow basic heat safety tenets, including limiting strenuous outdoor activity, staying hydrated and ensuring children and pets are not left in hot cars.
But despite the summer heat, typical sources of relief from summer heat aren’t accessible in many cases due to pandemic-related closures. Spokane County’s two aquatic centers won’t open this summer, and Spokane’s six city pools and 17 splash pads in area parks can’t open until Phase 3, according to the city’s aquatics hotline.
However, the Spokane River is accessible from several launch points near the city, including the recently reopened TJ Meenach launch point in West Spokane, according to city parks spokesperson Fianna Dickson. A volunteer effort to make life jackets freely available at popular rafting and floating points on the river is underway, following three drowning deaths in the river this summer.
The river can also be accessed from Riverside State Park, where all water launch points are open, said park ranger Paul Neddo. Campsites are not yet open to the public, but day-use facilities are available.
Neddo said the park has been sometimes overwhelmed with demand on weekends this summer, occasionally having to turn would-be hikers and swimmers away when parking lots overflow.
Waterfront access managed by Spokane County is open at Fish, Bear and Liberty Lakes, as well as at Pine River.
Nearly all water access points in North Idaho are open under the state’s Phase 4 of reopening, including all waterfronts on Lake Coeur d’Alene.
Starting Wednesday, the roller coaster is expected to take another slight downturn, with temperatures dropping into the mid-eighties. But Pelatti warned the region isn’t likely to see a drastic cooling period for much of the rest of the summer. After the weekend, highs are predicted to climb back into the nineties once more.
The extended stretch of low humidity and high temperatures mean fire danger will be higher through this week, Pelatti said. Fire marshals throughout the area cited those factors as the key reasons for burn restrictions that went into effect Monday, including in Spokane, Spokane Valley, Spokane County, Cheney, Airway Heights and Deer Park.
Pelatti said he didn’t expect fire danger to reach “red flag” levels this week, because heavier fuel sources like trees and branches aren’t dry enough yet to lend themselves to explosive, large fire events.
There is plenty of dry grass throughout the region, though, which Pelatti said can allow fire to spread quickly and dangerously under the right conditions.
“Dry, cured grass catches super easily, which is why the attention is on preventing those fires,” Pelatti said. “Even a stray spark from your catalytic converter when you pull off the road can cause a big problem.”
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