From the archives: Forecast calls for “life-threatening” heat; Health Officer urges public to make a plan, help others

June 23, 2021

Updated: a third cooling center has been added. For updates and hours, visit help for when its hot

The Portland metro area is bracing for a stretch of record-breaking heat, as the National Weather Service forecasts temperatures could reach 107 degrees over the weekend and remain high into next week.

An excessive heat watch is in effect through early next week, and health officials are warning people to seek air-conditioned spaces and shade, and to help their more vulnerable neighbors find relief.

“This is life-threatening heat,” said Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines. “People need to find someplace cool to spend time during the coming days. And for people who already have somewhere cool, their job is to reach out to other people. Ask them to join you, or help them get to a place that is reasonably cool.” 

Multnomah County will open cooling centers from 1 to 9 p.m. beginning Friday, June 25, through at least Monday, June 28, at the following locations:

The County is exploring additional cooling center options. Anyone who needs transportation support should dial 2-1-1

Extend a hand to people you see outdoors as well. Bring extra water and, if you see a person outside during the heat of the day who looks disoriented or confused, don’t assume that person is intoxicated. Those are also signs of heat stroke. Offer to help them move to a cooler space and dial 9-1-1. 

What makes this heat wave abnormally dangerous — besides the record-setting temperatures — is warmer nights. Overnight lows will be unseasonably warm, limiting relief from the heat and increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses.

“The research we have shows it’s those nighttime lows that are really important to health,” said Brendon Haggerty, interim supervisor for the Health Department’s Healthy Homes and Communities. “People rely on those temperatures to recover and to cool down their homes. But nights are not going to provide the relief we might normally get.”

Symptoms of heat stroke are high body temperature, hot dry skin or profuse sweating, confusion and loss of coordination, and a throbbing headache. If you believe someone has a heat-related illness, get them water and into a cool place immediately. If symptoms persist, or they lose consciousness, or have trouble breathing, call 911.

Cool spaces, community support

Increasing rates of vaccination against COVID-19 and a sustained drop in infections and hospitalizations have allowed businesses and public services to ease public health restrictions that closed pools, theaters, malls and libraries last year.

The City of Portland this week reopened public pools for the first time since COVID-19 shut them down last spring. Movie theaters have begun welcoming people back into the seats. And some library branches are again greeting patrons to their stacks. In addition, indoor retail malls and movie theaters are open and may offer additional relief for some.

For people who have air conditioning or cooler spaces at home, Health Officer Vines urged those residents to consider who else might need relief from the heat, and prioritize getting people breaks in cool spaces over pandemic precautions.

“COVID precautions are important for people who aren’t fully vaccinated, but right now those precautions are secondary,” she said. “In the same way we said during the September wildfires to get people inside, we’re saying now, ‘Get someplace cool.’”

As it does routinely ahead of heat waves, the Joint Office of Homeless Services has been stocking up on water and hot-weather supply kits at its downtown street outreach supply center. That way, outreach workers can directly distribute water bottles and other supplies to people in need who are living without shelter.

Those kits include items like cooling towels, misting bottles, electrolytes and sunscreen. Outreach workers are picking up those supplies already, and they will be on alert as they make their rounds, checking on people who are vulnerable.

Health officials urge all residents to: plan now for the risk of dangerously hot days to come and consider who else might need help, pick up any items you might want on hand to be more comfortable at home, and plan for when and how to venture out if necessary on those hotter days.

Make a plan now

Get ready now for high temperatures later. Friday will get hot and by Saturday, people should be ready to hunker down someplace cool — or at least tolerable. If you don’t have a cool space, make a plan on where you might go.

Horsetail falls on a hot June day

If you have a cool space and you can make it available to people who don’t, consider doing so. You might want to find out in advance which relatives and neighbors need some help or someone to check in on them.

Shaded and wooded parks may also offer some relief. People who choose to walk or bike to reach a park should move slowly and drink plenty of water.

Take care at home

Open windows and doors when temperatures are coolest, overnight and into the early morning hours. Then close the house and curtains to keep the space cooler. Avoid cooking with the oven or stove and consider these ways to stay cool indoors:

  • Take a cool shower

  • Mix a smoothie with lots of ice and frozen fruit, or blend up some cucumber water

  • Make a cool pack: fill a sock with rice and toss it in the freezer, or freeze a wet washcloth.

Take care outside

“There is no way to be outside safely in 107 degree heat,” said Health Officer Vines. “But for people who must be outside, they should plan those tasks for the early morning hours.”

Vines recommends organizers of outdoor events consider rescheduling or cancelling those events. 

Employers should do everything possible to make sure their workers are not out during the hottest hours. If workers have to be out, they need water, a cool place to take frequent breaks, and someone to watch closely for signs of heat illness.

If employers have indoor duties or lighter duties, it’s a good time to assign those.

For anyone who plans time outdoors:

  • Drink more water than normal and electrolytes or salty snacks

  • Avoid alcohol and sugary drinks

  • Wear lightweight, loose and light-colored clothing

  • Take frequent breaks

Take care of others

Never leave anyone in a parked car, even in the shade with windows cracked. A child is particularly vulnerable,  child's body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult's. When a child is left in a hot vehicle, they could die within minutes.

Check regularly on family, friends and neighbors who might be especially vulnerable to the heat, including seniors, people taking mental health medications and people with heart disease, high blood pressure and other chronic health conditions.

People experiencing homelessness and others who must be outdoors during excessive heat are at particular risk of heat illness. If you come across someone who is disoriented, don’t assume they are intoxicated. They might be suffering from heat illness; and heat stroke is life-threatening. 

  • Carry extra water in case you see someone who needs a drink

  • If a person looks disoriented or confused, they might be suffering from the effects of heat. Help them move to a cooler place and consider dialing 9-1-1.

Take care of animals

If it’s possible, bring your pets inside, if the space is cooler than outdoors. If not, consider a stay with family or friends. If your animals stay outside, make sure they have shade and access to plenty of water. Consider turning on a sprinkler or filling a kiddie pool for your animals.

If you have to run errands, leave your pets at home. And anytime you see an animal in a car, Multnomah County Animal Services recommends:

  • Call the Multnomah County Animal Services Dispatch at (503) 988-7387. Dispatchers will ask you about what you observe, and advise of next steps.

  • Animal Control Officers and municipal police departments can respond to assist you.

For people with livestock, make sure you have enough shade for all animals and set up a sprinkler to cool them during the hottest hours. Avoid transporting animals until temperatures cool. Pigs and shorn sheep, as well as young animals, dark animals and sick animals are at greater risk of heat illness.