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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Residents and their pets can get a free ride to cooling centers as Spokane breaks another heat record

Wearing her sun hat, Ellie Machado, turning 9 months old in early August, visits the Davenport Fountain in Manito Park Friday with her parents David and Christine.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Adam Shanks and Sydney Brown The Spokesman-Review

Spokane had its hottest July on record, but relief may be in sight in the form of rain and free rides to cooling centers before it could start to fall.

The Spokane International Airport, which the National Weather Services uses to measure highs, reached 101 degrees on Friday.

That sweltering day helped Spokane break a dismal record. With the average temperature for the month determined at 76.9 degrees, July 2021 beat 1906 as the hottest July on record for Spokane, said Greg Koch, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Spokane. July 1906 had an average temperature of 75.9. The 30-year average for Spokane in July is 71.

Koch said a 5-degree difference is very concerning for the area, which has been embroiled in an exceptional drought for the first time during July.

“We’re 1 degree warmer than 1906, and today and tomorrow’s temperatures will probably push us up a few more points above that,” he said Friday.

It’s not all bad, though, with the weather service expecting thunderstorms and humidity to roll through later this weekend. While Saturday is supposed to reach at least 100 degrees again, Sunday may only be in the 80s and Monday will have temperatures in the mid- to upper 90s, with humidity and rainfall possible.

“There’s a good chance parts of our area will get some much-needed rain,” Koch said.

Koch said as of Friday afternoon the weather service did not know exactly where the rain was supposed to fall.

With eight big fires burning 124,493 acres of Washington state Department of Natural Resources land, these storms will bring lightning, which is “always a concern,” Koch said.

Winds from the northeast will probably bring some smoke into the air and could tip the air quality index from “moderate” to “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” but this could change depending on fire activity, Koch said. The haze will likely linger for a day or two starting Saturday.

“We’ve been very fortunate this month that a lot of the smoke of the fires has blown away from Spokane,” he said.

The added humidity, especially on Sunday, will also help lower fire hazard, Koch said.

“It will feel stickier than average in Spokane,” he said.

Free rides to cooling centers for residents and pets

With at least one more day forecast at around 100 degrees, the Spokane Transit Authority will once again provide free transportation to cooling centers on Friday and Saturday.

The service is door-to-door and available to anyone who lives in STA’s service area.

To schedule a shuttle ride, a person has to call (509) 328-1552 with at least two hours of advance notice. The rides were available Friday and again on Saturday.

Masks are required for passengers, per federal regulations.

The service is fully accessible and uses STA’s paratransit vans. It is paid for by Avista.

The STA is temporarily waiving its prohibition on pets.

“It’s very much outside of our standard policy, but this is a safety thing and we don’t want people to stay home and risk heat stroke because they’re worried their pets can’t go with them,” said Brandon Rapez-Betty, an STA spokesperson.

The city of Spokane has once again opened a room at the Looff Carrousel as a cooling center. Branches of the Spokane Public Library are also open as cooling centers.

The program was quickly put together and launched for the first time during the record-breaking heatwave in late June. In many ways, it mirrored the program established by STA to provide free rides to vaccination clinics earlier this year.

Elected and public health officials have urged people in Spokane to learn the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, as well as check on family and neighbors during heat waves.

The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning for the Spokane area through Saturday night.

The free rides program was set up in June as Avista’s electric service began to unexpectedly fail in parts of Spokane, forcing the utility to implement rolling blackouts while temperatures remained extremely high.

Although blackouts have not occurred in Spokane this week, Avista reached out again on Thursday to partner on the program.

The service saw fewer than 10 trips taken during that first heatwave. The scant ridership was blamed, in part, on how little advance notice there was given about the program and lack of time to market it. In this case, STA is focused less on demand than simply providing the service.

In response to the first heatwave, the STA said it would begin to draft a more formal response plan to excessive heat.

That work is still in progress, according to Rapez-Betty.

“Being caught off guard a month ago was an eye opener for all of us to get these policies in place, but they take time to develop,” Rapez-Betty said. “We’re further than we were, but we’re still not in a place where we have long-term plans.”