Cooling centers serve hundreds during August heat wave; outreach connects scores more to supplies, resources and information

August 24, 2023

After 4 days of excessive heat, County resumes normal operations as temperatures and heat risk dropped

Three cooling centers operated by Multnomah County and its community partners during a mid-August heat emergency saw nearly 1,000 visits, as neighbors sought respite from high temperatures that spiked to triple-digits for four consecutive days.

On the final day cooling centers were open, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 281 people spent time in the spaces. On Tuesday, Aug. 15, 335 spent time at a cooling center, while 220 sought respite on Monday, Aug. 14, and 120 did so on Sunday, Aug. 13.

Many other cooling spaces and resources — including Multnomah County libraries, Lloyd Center, City-operated splash pads and misting stations, and other locations offered by community partners — were open in the community and in downtown Portland throughout the heat wave.

It took until Thursday, Aug. 17, before temperatures finally fell short of the severe weather thresholds that Multnomah County and the City of Portland use — in consultation with the National Weather Service, the Health Department, County Human Services and the Joint Office of Homeless Services — to jointly decide cooling center plans. 

The Multnomah County Medical Examiner’s Program reported investigations into six suspected heat-related deaths: Monday, Aug. 14, in Southeast Portland; Tuesday, Aug. 15, in a Portland hospital; Wednesday, Aug. 16, in Northeast Portland; and two deaths reported Friday, Aug. 18, also in Northeast Portland; and Saturday, Aug. 19, in North Portland.

Driven by the impacts of climate change, extreme summer temperatures were notably higher and more sustained than historical seasonal averages, demonstrated by the regional records that the August heat wave either tied or broke.

The Monday, Aug. 14 high of 108 degrees Fahrenheit was the hottest August day on record. Tuesday’s overnight low of 73 degrees came within two degrees of the all-time warmest low temperature and tied the August record, set last year. On Wednesday, Aug. 16, Portland set a daily record at 103 degrees. The four consecutive days of temperatures of 100 degrees or higher fell one day shy of the all-time record of five, set in 1941.

Four previous decades — the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s — each saw 15 days at 100 degrees or warmer at Portland International Airport — all sharing a record. Portland surpassed that decade-old mark on Wednesday, Aug. 16, with its 16th day of temperatures above 100 degrees since 2020 — with six years remaining in the decade.

County Human Services steps up outreach to seniors, clients, property managers

To ensure vulnerable people received direct contact, the Department of County Human Services’ Regional Health and Human Services Contact Center staff called hundreds of seniors, clients and property managers to alert them to the risk and protective measures.

As the record-breaking heat dome in 2021 made clear, most deaths caused by heat exposure affected vulnerable people who were alone in their homes and either did not have access to air conditioning or did not turn their air conditioning on.

Beginning on Friday, Aug. 11, the Contact Center identified and reached out to 570 property owners or managers, speaking with or leaving messages for 448. The Contact Center’s list was developed by the Multnomah County Health Department and Portland Housing Bureau, including properties in urban heat islands and with tenants who might be more at risk of heat-related impacts because of their income status and/or age. The County also sent 631 emails with additional information and resources to share with residents.

Over three days, Monday, Aug. 14 through Wednesday, Aug. 16, the Contact Center staff also reached out to 1,029 households who receive long-term services and support from the County, including seniors and people with disabilities, speaking directly with 548 and leaving messages with 363. Of those households, 443 spoke languages other than English, representing 38 total languages.

Joint Office of Homeless Services, community providers and other agencies ensure survival supplies reach people without shelter 

At least four days before the heat arrived, the Joint Office of Homeless Services mobilized its contracted outreach teams, mutual aid groups and community volunteers to deliver hot weather gear and information to people living without shelter across Multnomah County.

By the end of the day Wednesday, Aug. 16, the County’s outreach supply center had distributed 2,120 reusable drinking bottles, 117,650 individual bottles of water, 4,240 cooling towels, 10,600 electrolyte packs, 10,700 sunscreen packets and 2,080 misting bottles for people in need.

Staff across Multnomah County, from downtown Portland to east Multnomah County, helped people seeking respite from the heat by handing out water bottles and cooling towels over the course of the emergency. At the County’s downtown Mead Building, Department of Community Justice staff distributed approximately 300 bottles of water and 100 cooling towels starting Monday. Staff at the Department of Community Justice East Campus handed out an additional 250 water bottles.