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Portland plans cooling centers as region braces for triple-digit temperatures

Remember how you always talked about investing in central air or maybe a window air conditioner for those few days of the summer when heat soars in these parts? Well now might be that time.

An “excessive heat watch” starts either Friday or Saturday depending on which part of the Pacific Northwest you live in and continues through Monday. The region will see high temperatures 20 to 30 degrees above normal at many locations, putting numerous daily, monthly and possible all-time high-temperature records in jeopardy.

In the Portland-Vancouver metro area and the Columbia River Gorge, high temperatures up to 108 degrees are possible, according to the National Weather Service.

Overnight lows will also be unseasonably warm, limiting the amount of relief from the heat and contributing to increased risk of heat-related illnesses, the weather service says.

Some parts of Eastern Oregon could see high temperatures up to 111 degrees.

The Coast Range and much of Southern Oregon could also see triple digits. Even the Cascades could reach 80 to 90 degrees at higher elevations. And the heat extends up into the Puget Sound region as well, with a high of 105 predicted for Olympia, Washington, on Sunday and 98 for Seattle the same day.

In anticipation of the heat wave, Multnomah County is settingup three cooling centers this weekend. Centers will be staged at The Oregon Convention Center, The Sunrise Center and in the Arbor Lodge neighborhood on North Lombard Street. The cooling centers will be open Friday until at least Monday.

“We’re really worried about the forecast that is clearly showing high triple digits that are potential record breaking,” Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines said. “That’s concerning not just because of how high the temperature is going to be, but also because cooling overnight, it’s not going to be that cool.”

The cooling centers are open a from 1 to 9 p.m., during the hottest part of the day. Anyone who is need of a cool space is invited to utilize the centers.

“That could be people who live outside who need to just give their bodies a break from the heat, it could be people who live in an apartment without air conditioning, who are elderly and who need a place to go to get cool,” Vines said.

The cooling centers did not open last summer due to COVID-19 concerns. This year health officials decided the risk of heat related illness was too great. While social distancing and masks will be required at the centers, but no one will be turned away.

“At this point COVID precautions are still a concern, but they really take a back seat to the risk that the heat poses heading into the weekend,” Vines said.

High temperatures can cause heat illness or even death in extreme cases.

“Some early signs of heat illness are just things like feeling thirsty, you may have a headache, you may feel queasy or dizzy,” Vines said.

Vines says that getting someone to a cool place and getting them hydrated is crucial in the early stages of heat illness.

“But if someone is really disoriented, confused or not responding, don’t assume that they are intoxicated,” Vines said. “In these kinds of temperatures, assume that that’s a heat emergency and call 911.”

Vines also said that people should avoid strenuous activity during peak temperatures in the day and stay hydrated.

“I think the main message is for folks to have a plan to stay cool and to include in their plan checking on other people and seeing how they can offer to help others during this time, because this is a direct stress on our bodies and our physical health,” Vines said.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting