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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Extended heatwave expected to hit Spokane starting this weekend and stretching into next week

Meteorologists from Spokane to Southern California are warning of a potentially deadly heat wave expected to stretch from Friday through much of next week.

The impending heat wave is expected to affect much of the West Coast , with excessive heat warnings and watches in effect for large swathes of Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington.

Several all-time records are expected to be broken as the dangerous heat persists for the foreseeable future. Death Valley in Central California and Western Nevada could approach 130 degrees, the ballpark for the highest temperature ever measured on the planet – 134.1 degrees as recorded in Death Valley in 1913.

“It cannot be stressed enough that this is an exceptionally dangerous and lethal situation,” the Bay Area branch of the National Weather Service office warned earlier this week. “It may not seem so if you live near the coast, but an event of this scale, magnitude, and longevity will likely rival anything we’ve seen in the last 18 years for inland areas.”

Temperatures won’t reach global record-highs in the Inland Northwest, but the weather service office in Spokane is predicting temperatures near or topping 100 degrees for the foreseeable future.

The weather service has issued an excessive heat warning for much of Eastern Washington, with temperatures in Spokane expected to climb near 100 degrees Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The forecast for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday predicts highs upwards of 100 degrees, with overnight lows forecast in the 60s. Temperatures will begin to drop next Thursday, with the weather service’s forecast calling for a high of 100 degrees.

Those forecasts may not accurately represent the extremes some Spokane neighborhoods may see, said Professor Brian Henning, director of the Gonzaga Institute for Climate, Water, and the Environment.

Following the deadly heat dome in 2021 that killed 19 people in Spokane County, Henning and his team launched “Beat the Heat” to better understand the heat disparities in Spokane neighborhoods, and what could be done to better prepare the region for extreme heat events.

“If you look at the whole state, that heat dome was the most deadly weather event in Washington state history,” Henning said. “And unfortunately, it’s just a matter of time before we have it again.Of course, we’ve already seen it elsewhere in the country, in the world, this year.”

As part of the study, the center mapped out “urban heat islands” – areas of pavement and buildings that absorb and retain heat, and can be much hotter than other shaded parts of neighborhoods.

The study found temperatures can vary by as much as 14 degrees from neighborhood to neighborhood, and that low-income and racially diverse Spokane residents are disproportionately affected by extreme heat.

That’s likely because those residents tend to live in neighborhoods with more roads and buildings and fewer trees, meaning higher concentrations of heat, Henning said. They also don’t have resources, such as air conditioning or the budget to run their air conditioners, to keep cool during a heat wave.

“In a fair community, that wouldn’t be the case,” Henning said. “Everybody would have equal access to cool, green spaces, and wouldn’t have too much roadways and big boxes and things that trap heat.”

Henning said research shows extreme heat events like the one expected this weekend and into next week are growing in frequency, intensity and duration due to the effects of climate change. The same is true for other extreme weather events, which means local, state, and federal governments, and communities near and far, need to do what they can now to be better prepared.

Henning would like to see more done toward that goal locally, to ensure communities in the Inland Northwest and across the state are more resilient to extreme weather. He noted that the state and federal government have made millions available to communities to assist in that effort.

He said the transition team in place when Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown took office earlier this year, a team he was a member of, called for the creation of a community resilience office and “chief resilience officer” to lead the charge on bolstering resources for Spokane’s at-risk neighborhoods.

“Obviously, the city has challenges with having inherited a significant financial structural deficit,” Henning said. “But we really can’t afford not to be planning for a future where there are deadly extreme weather events.”

The dangers of extreme heat and how to stay safe

The risk of heat-related illness becomes much more significant the higher temperatures climb, and the longer they stay there, said Spokane Regional Health District spokeswoman Kelli Hawkins.

Extreme heat can exacerbate pre-existing conditions, and tends to impact vulnerable populations like low-income households, children, seniors and pregnant people most severely. Even relatively healthy people, like athletes, can succumb to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, Hawkins said.

“People like athletes are at great risk, because they want to continue their exercising, but they don’t realize how their body is going to react when the temperatures increase,” Hawkins said. “Because they’re really healthy, they may not realize how susceptible they are when temperatures increase.”

Hawkins said learning how to recognize symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can differ drastically , could help save lives.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include feeling faint, dizzy and nauseated, as well as excessive sweating; clammy, pale skin; muscle cramps: vomiting and a rapid, faint pulse. If a person notices those symptoms in themselves or in others, the Health District recommends going to a cool place, drinking water and taking a cool shower or using cold compresses to lower the body temperature.

Symptoms of heat stroke, which is more severe, include headaches; a lack of sweating; red, hot, dry skin; nausea and vomiting; a rapid, strong heartbeat; a body temperature over 103 degrees and the loss of consciousness. Those symptoms warrant a visit to an emergency room or a call to 911, if noticed, according to the Health District.

Hawkins said people can lower their risk of heat illness by limiting time spent outdoors, wearing light weight clothing and limiting sun exposure through sunscreen and appropriate clothing. The health district stresses the importance of staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water, and replacing salts and minerals lost through sweating by drinking sports drinks.

“I know nobody likes hearing this as we go into a holiday weekend, but caffeine and alcohol doesn’t help out when the temperature is high,” Hawkins said.

Using an air conditioner, or opening windows at night and using fans, can help keep indoor spaces cool during the extreme heat. Hawkins noted that fans should not be used when temperatures climb above 95 degrees as they only push around hot air at that point. Folks should also keep in mind that internal car temperatures can climb rapidly even when windows are left open, creating dangerous situations for adults, children and pets.

There are cooling resources available to those who need them, including city parks, emergency weather shelters and public buildings.

Included in the “Beat the Heat” research and findings published on the project’s website is an interactive map that shows watering fountains, splash pads and public buildings equipped with air conditioning throughout the greater-Spokane area.

“We try and do what we can to keep those sources there accurate, so people could put in their address and see what was closest to them in terms of cooling resources,” Henning said, which can include verifying if water fountains work and reporting them to the city for maintenance if needed.

As mandated by city law when temperatures are forecast to hit 95 degrees or higher on consecutive days, the city has established cooling centers for those seeking relief from the heat. The Central, Shadle Park, Liberty Park, Hillyard, South Hill and Indian Trail branches of the Spokane Public Library, as well as the city-run homeless shelter on Trent Avenue referred to as the TRAC, will operate as emergency cooling centers for the time being.

The Central Library in downtown Spokane will operate under extended hours Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and all library branches will be open during regular weekday hours – 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays.

The Spokane Transit Authority will offer free rides for those headed to or from the cooling centers. Riders simply need to say they do not have funds for the fare and that they are traveling to a cooling center.

Hawkins said people should endeavor to check on their neighbors as much as possible to ensure they’re staying cool and healthy amidst the extreme temperatures.

“If you know that there’s somebody living next door that is elderly or maybe a vulnerable member of the community, then go knock on the door and maybe take them some fruit or something as an excuse if they don’t want to be checked on,” Hawkins said.

“Just make sure that they’re OK and cool and hydrated.”