As the National Weather Service forecasts a prolonged stretch of hot weather next week — with several days that could exceed 100 and little nighttime cooling in between — Multnomah County and the City of Portland are preparing their emergency responses and asking community members to start to get ready now, before the full force of the heat arrives.
As soon as Tuesday, July 26, high temperatures could top 100 degrees and remain there for three or four days before slowly cooling off. Meanwhile, nighttime temperatures could offer little respite, hovering around 70 degrees, with a chance they won’t even get that low.
Next week’s forecasted heatwave would bring the region its second major bout of scorching temperatures this summer, after a smaller event in late June. But it would be the first to linger for days, while also threatening to reach triple-digits, raising comparisons to the record-breaking heat dome emergency last year that killed 69 people in Multnomah County.
Last year, temperatures reached 116 degrees, and topped 100 degrees for three consecutive days with little cooling overnight. Next week’s heatwave is expected to be less severe, according to the National Weather Service. But officials in Portland and Multnomah County, working with their community partners, have already been working to prepare for worst case scenarios.
Beyond planning formal emergency declarations, local officials are lining up daytime cooling spaces and preparing overnight shelters; distributing air conditioning units to high-risk clients within the County’s Aging, Disabilities and Veteran Services Division; and sharing survival gear from the Joint Office of Homeless Services with outreach teams and mutual aid groups serving community members living without shelter.
“Next week’s heatwave is still a few days away. But time is running out fast. So we all need to prepare for the worst, even as we hope for the best,” said Chris Voss, Multnomah County’s director of Emergency Management. “Make a plan right now to take care of yourselves and others. Check in on your vulnerable loved ones and neighbors. And look to us for updates next week on options for how to find relief from the heat.”
Check multco.us/hot for updates on extended hours at libraries, and to find out about any cooling centers that may open in the coming days
Outreach under way
Multnomah County’s Department of County Human Services has installed 78 air conditioning units in the homes of vulnerable clients, as part of a long-term effort to better prepare clients who are low-income and live in urban heat islands. Appointments will continue to be scheduled over the weekend. The units going in now are part of a spring purchase of about 180 units.
The Board voted in June to approve a one-time program offer that will allow DCHS to purchase and install up to 1,000 units during the 2022-23 fiscal year that started July 1. Currently, this service is only available to Aging, Disability and Veterans Services and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Division clients.
“Last year, we learned that the majority of heat deaths were among older adults who lived alone without air conditioning,” said Lee Girard, the interim deputy director of DCHS. “This year we are doing everything we can to get air conditioners to those who need them the most.”
The Joint Office of Homeless Services has also begun distributing hot weather supplies to people living outside through its supply distribution center. Among the supplies outreach teams and mutual aid groups have distributed since Tuesday are 15,846 water bottles, 2,000 electrolyte packets, 856 cooling towels, 400 refillable bottles and 400 misting bottles.
And the Community Health Centers will provide bottled water and assistance for clients to access other hot weather supplies.
Libraries, meanwhile, are gearing up to offer extended hours at some locations (with more information to come at multco.us/hot) and will have bottled water and misting bottles to hand out.
"The most essential mission of the public library is to provide spaces and resources that are free and open to all," said Director of Libraries Vailey Oehlke. "When the weather makes things harder, especially for our most vulnerable neighbors, libraries are an important part of the response. We welcome anyone to visit, browse library materials, get help with technology or just be in a cool space."
Prepare now. Reach out.
Last year, the region experienced record-shattering heat that, by the end of summer, killed 72 people in Multnomah County — with all but three of those deaths resulting from a single five-day heat wave in June.
Of those who died, 78% were 60 or older; 71% lived alone. Only 10 death investigations made reference to an air cooling unit in the home, seven of which were malfunctioning or unplugged.
That’s why health officials are urging people to check in early with people in their lives and in their neighborhoods who are older, live alone and may not have functioning air conditioning units.
Make a plan with them ahead of time about how to get breaks from the heat, especially if the National Weather Service’s worst case scenarios bear out. Consider inviting them to a matinee or a trip to the mall, spend an afternoon in a library or dip in a community pool. Offer a spare bedroom or a mini-vacation to the beach.
And plan a time to check in on them regularly if temperatures hover above 90 and if overnight lows remain too warm to give people relief.
Multnomah County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Teresa Everson encouraged people who don’t have air cooling at home to plan ahead by finding cool spaces nearby. She also said caring for your health in general now, including by staying hydrated, getting good sleep, eating well, and caring for chronic health conditions, will make your body less vulnerable when heat sets in.
And Everson said when in doubt, lean on the classics.
“Don’t discount the effectiveness of a cold wet washcloth and a fan,” she said. “That’s what we did growing up, because we didn’t have AC.” Even today the family’s only AC unit is in their son’s room. So when it gets hot outside, Everson’s family spends time on the lower cooler floor of their home and they open the windows at night to cool off.
“And we hydrate really well,” she said. She advises hydrating with anything that doesn’t have alcohol, caffeine or a lot of sugar- water is best.
Everson’s six-year-old son says his go-tos to stay cool are to sip lemonade and mist himself with a spray bottle.
Bookmark these links
Help for When it's Hot: find out about extended hours, cooling centers, overnight shelters, and more.
Map of cool spaces: check out our interactive map of libraries, pools, communities centers, and other cool spaces.
2-1-1 info: Find a cool space near you, learn about cooling centers when they open, and for transportation support.
National Weather Service: Check the forecast to plan outdoor activities for the coolest times of day.