T the recent heat wave that roasted the US Pacific Northwest has not only erased temperature records in cities like Seattle and Portland - she also set fire to a comforting bromidet that the region would be a gentle and safe haven from the ravages of the climate crisis.
Unprecedented temperatures baked the region three years ago weeks, as part of a procession of heat waves that hit the parched western United States, from Montana to southern California, over the past month. A The "heat dome" which is installed on the region saw Seattle hit 108 F (42.2 C), smashing the previous record of 3 F (1.7 C), while Portland, Oregon hit its own record of 116 F (46.7 C). Some interior areas have managed to reach 118F (47.8C).
Conditions in a corner of the United States known for its moderate, often lukewarm summers, baffled residents.
The roads cracked and are deformed under heat, thes electric cables melted, restaurants closed. Hospitals suddenly found themselves overwhelmed , with several hundred people estimated to have died in the heat . Slightly north, off Vancouver, about 1 billion sea creatures have perished , in the form of helpless mussels and clams cooked in their own shells.
"We given the forecast and it was hard to believe because we don't really have heatwaves like that. In Seattle, the weather is usually so overcast in June that we call it June, "said Kristie Ebi, epidemiologist at the University of Washington who knew that the caniculum was severe when she woke up at 6 a.m. with a temperature already 80 ° F. "You see the heat waves hitting other places and you know it's bad, but there is no sense of urgency until they hit you. "
An old joke in Seattle is that you will know more people with a boat than people with air conditioning and the latest figures show only 44% of the city's households are equipped with air conditioning. The Pacific Northwest's image as a place of rugged natural beauty, comfortable climates, and forward-thinking politics helped attract many newcomers - Seattle was the great American city to fastest growing last year - but the heatwave provided a sobering reality for its status as a thriving refuge.
"There are a lot of people who leave California with the idea that there are a lot of natural amenities and a lot of good space market, but all of those factors are changing, ”said Jesse Keenan, climate adaptation expert at Tulane University. "It is getting less and less affordable and more and more burdened with forest fires, terrible smoke, flash floods and those heat waves that suddenly make things a matter of life and death.
The Pacific Northwest has warmed by an average of 2 F (1.1 ° C) over the past century , with increasing forest fires, peaches coastal failures, a coatreceding snow and increasing heat wreaking havoc in a region historically unprepared for such extremes. The recent heat wave would have been "virtually impossible" without the human-induced degradation of the climate, scientists say said .
Communities in the Northwest face a "monumental task" to adapt to this changing reality, Keenan said, requiring upgrading of homes, businesses and public buildings with proper cooling, l 'increased shade with more tree cover, making urban surfaces more heat reflective and re-equipping a poorly equipped power grid for huge surges in summer.
"There is a very rapid climate change going on and at the moment theyaren't well prepared for the extreme heat, ”Keenan mentioned. "People are finally feeling the pain of this.
Oregon was supposed to be a safe haven for Steven Mana 'oakamai Johnson, who moved to the state in 2017 after witnessing his home in Saipan, part of the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean threatened by typhoons made increasingly powerful by warming ocean and sea atmosphere.
But when the heatwave struck, Johnson, his partner and their dog had to flee their apartment in Corvallis, which does not have air conditioning, to stay on the Oregon coast in an attempt to cool off. The increasing heat, which followed the wildfires that raged nearby last year, has forced Johnson to revise his previous assumptions.
"J always thought it was a cozy place, that it could even be a host statefor climate migrants, ”said Johnson, a biologist. “But there was this big awakening that things are moving faster than expected. It was shocking how hot it was and how long it took to cool down. "
Several of Johnson's friends are among the many people who are now inundating local contractors with requests to install ning air conditioning.
"In just a few days you have seen this big change in the way people view to adapt, "he said." It has changed my view of Oregon. It has been hammered out to me that climate change is inescapable - no matter where you are or when you are there. come on, you have to think about it. Nowhere is safe, nowhere is really a refuge. "
The math for some people is still more existential. A few hundred kilometers north of Seattle, the littleCanadian city of Lytton was almost completely consumed by a rapid forest fire on June 30, the day after a new national temperature record of 121F (49.6C) was set, a huge jump from the previous record and higher than any temperature ever measured in Europe or South America.
Lytton is located in a more indoor area arid than the airier BC coast and so often receives scorching heat in the summer, though nothing comes close to the incredible extremes endured this year. This forces some to think about their presence in what is supposed to be a safe part of the world.
"I firmly believe that there will be more and more. no more fires until there are no trees here, ”said Jim Ryan, a computer programmer who lives in Spence 's Bridge, a small town near Lytton, for 30 years. “Even if I don't burn myself, do I want to spend every summer living in smoke, in a more polluted place than in the big cities?
Ashes always fall around Ryan's house and in the most recent summers a nearby forest fire has suffocated his town, leaving his clothes behind smell the smoke. "There have always been fires before, but never so big, they 've never taken off so fast " he said.
"To me, it's climate change in action. I don't really want to move but I don't want to live here and cut my life short either. It's something we are struggling with. The question, however, is: where would we go? "