By: Eric Domenico
Summary. A record-breaking heatwave, which was once considered a rare event for the Pacific Northwest, claimed hundreds of lives and disrupted millions more in June of 2021. Temperatures rarely exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Portland, Oregon, but three consecutive days of temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit swept across the land in late June, which most residents and infrastructure were unprepared for. Roads buckled, power cables melted, businesses closed. With temperatures typically being cooler, it is not uncommon to not have air-conditioning, so cooling centers were being opened for the public. Many climate scientists are of the conviction that climate change is responsible for this generally unlikely occurrence. Perhaps to be considered an anomaly by some, that conclusion was tested in August, when 100 plus degrees was met for another two days back-to-back. An alteration to the Jetstream currents that naturally flow across this area has been discovered to be the culprit of this phenomenon. The swirling motion of the Jetstream set in place an unusual condition called an "Omega Block", where the surge of high-pressure stacked on top of itself and stalled over the northwest. An effect of climate change, the responding weather in this region is non-linear due to the magnification brought on by droughts and subsequent wildfires. The positive-feedback loop of increasing temperatures, prolonged droughts, and wildfires in this region is amplifying the devastation even more. In 2021, in the states of Oregon and Washington, wildfires have clamed nearly twenty times more land than in the previous year, which already sustained more wildfires than previously recorded. Drought conditions are recorded in over 90% of the entire Pacific Northwest, too. The likeliness of these events will only increase if temperatures continue to rise globally. The fight against climate change is an uphill battle, and it is still a long ways from effectively mitigating what is being experienced today.
Why we should care? As an unsuspecting traveler of the western United States during this heatwave, this topic had become relatable for myself with my first-hand experience of the event. It is prudent to understand the way this has disrupted lives for so many people.
The article of choice was selected because of its in-depth account of the experience. The article touches on the background of the weather in Oregon and it articulates well on the timeline of this devastating heat wave. Gardener includes detailed accounts from residents and officials experiences to help visualize the devastation which allows it to become relatable. I think often it is easy to detach yourself from a terrible situation you aren't in. Bringing the first-hand accounts to the limelight is a good way to engage and educate readers. Gardner captures the panic, the scramble to respond, the science, and the results all in one captivating read.
Science in Action.
Dr. Geert Jan van Oldenborgh (Deceased October 11, 2021) was a climatologist and physicist at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and Co-founder and Co-leader of World Weather Attribution.
Geert Jan van Oldenborgh was co-founder of the World Weather Attribution; an organization that studied extreme weather events to provide quick analyses of the events. Oldenborgh's analysis of the Pacific Northwest heatwave was a desperately important contribution to climate science and understanding climate change's influence on this particular event. Oldenborgh and his partner, Friederike Otto, developed a computer program, called The Climate Explorer, as an unexpected result of studying El Niño. This program revolutionized weather and climate analysis. As someone who was on the forefront of studying extreme weather events, Oldenborgh is a perfect fit to select for this topic and I think choosing him is a great way to honor all of the work he has done as a climatologist while his recent death is still mourned.