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A record-breaking heat wave eased for coastal cities in the Pacific Northwest but tightened its grip inland, threatening people, crops and wildlife.
After several days above 100 degrees, temperatures Tuesday topped out at 84 in Seattle and 93 in Portland, Ore., as shifting winds pulled cooler air in from the Pacific Ocean. Both cities set record highs Monday, with Seattle hitting 108 and Portland 116.
Here in Yakima, the center of a rich fruit-growing region in central Washington, high temperatures reached a record 113 degrees on Tuesday.
The National Weather Service continued to warn of dangerous heat in the Northwest, with record-shattering temperatures in the region’s interior for much of the week. The dome of heat covering the region has also brought the highest temperatures ever seen in Canada, with the town of Lytton in British Columbia reaching nearly 118 degrees Tuesday, a third national record in as many days.
WHAT IS A HEAT DOME? PACIFIC NORTHWEST BOILS UNDER ITS EFFECTS
The chief coroner in British Columbia said the number of deaths recorded in Canada’s westernmost province over the four-day period ended Monday midafternoon—coinciding with the start of the heat wave—was nearly double the average for a comparable 96-hour period. The coroner said the 233 deaths recorded over the period might increase once fresh data arrive, and investigators would determine whether heat played a role in the increase.
Avista Utilities said it planned one-hour rolling blackouts for some customers in Spokane, Wash., on Tuesday because of the extremely high energy demand, following unplanned blackouts on Monday that affected thousands of customers. The utility urged customers to conserve energy as much as possible. The high temperature in Spokane Tuesday was a record 109.
The city of Yakima set up two cooling centers available to residents through July 1, when the excessive heat warning is expected to lift, the city said.
Meanwhile, fruit farmers and wildlife officials were left scrambling to save crops and fish.
RECORD TEMPERATURES GRIPPING NORTHWEST LINKED TO AT LEAST 2 DEATHS IN WASHINGTON
"We are in uncharted territory for this sort of heat wave for this duration," said James Michael, vice president of marketing for the Northwest Cherry Growers, a state agency promotion office. "Guys will do whatever they can to salvage the greatest portion of their crop."
Farmworkers at Matson Fruit Co. just outside Yakima, got an early start Tuesday morning. Crews trucked into the orchards by 5 a.m. in order to finish by 10 a.m.—several hours ahead of their typical schedule—in hopes of beating the heat.
By 10 a.m. the road surrounding the apple, cherry and pear orchards was broaching 90 degrees but a short walk into the orchards revealed the real dangers: the sweltering sun above; only a rare breeze through the lush trees dotted with bright red cherries, still three weeks from harvest; and an oppressive humidity trapped by the dense foliage and grass underfoot. Sweat was dripping even on those who stood still, and just to breathe took effort.
"As a farmer, we’re always fighting the weather," said Jordan Matson, manager of Matson Fruit. But the timing and duration of this heat wave, he said, "is a new one."