As temperatures punched into the 90s up and down the North Coast on Wednesday, everyone was telling each other to, “Stay cool.”
“Stay cool!” said vendors at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds, their faces shining with sweat as they passed corn dogs, cotton candy and cold drinks to sweating customers.
“Stay cool out there!” chimed a nurse at an assisted-living center in Astoria as doors swung open and visitors walked from an air-conditioned entryway straight into a wall of hot air.
It was an order nobody could obey as smoke from wildfires in British Columbia stained the sky gray and purple, spread along the Columbia River and hid Washington state from view.
Astoria saw a high of 93 degrees Wednesday afternoon, beating a previous record for Aug. 2 of 88 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. On this same day last year, the high was a more familiar 68 degrees. Cannon Beach logged a 95-degree day Wednesday, breaking a record there as well. The record for the hottest day in Astoria still belongs to July 1, 1942, when temperatures hit 101 degrees.
Portland beat the record for Aug. 2 with a high of 103 degrees. The previous record for that date had been 96 degrees in 1986 at the Portland Airport and 100 degrees in 1939 in downtown Portland. The all-time record still stands at 107 degrees.
The heat wave triggered a state of emergency announcement by Gov. Kate Brown as the hot, dry and windy conditions combined with forecasts for thunderstorms increased the threat of wildfires. The declaration will enable the Oregon National Guard to mobilize resources to help the Department of Forestry and the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office with firefighting efforts.
An excessive heat warning remains in place today for the region. Temperatures in Astoria are expected to soar above Wednesday’s with a predicted high of 97 degrees; in Portland, today could end up being the hottest day of the year at 106 degrees.
The heat wave hit the coast at a time when dozens of boats were out on the Columbia River for the Buoy 10 recreational fishery and the Clatsop County Fair was in full swing.
It caught everyone by surprise.
Temperature is relative. In other parts of the country, and even the state, no one would think twice about a 93-degree day in the middle of summer. On the coast, such high temperatures are rare and the people and animals who live here aren’t used to them.
Or, in the words of National Weather Service meteorological technician Gerald Macke, “We’re not accustomed to this 107-degree nonsense.”
When issuing warnings — whether for excessive heat or snow — meteorologists must take regional differences into account.
At the fairgrounds, 4-H organizers, kids and parents rushed around trying to keep animals cool. They spread ice donated by local seafood processing plants on the floors of chicken, sheep and pig pens. Rabbits stretched out next to frozen bottles of water. There were box fans everywhere: some on the floor, pointing at the backs of cows; others dangled from poles above enclosures, kept in place by twine or daisy chains of plastic zip ties.
“Last week, they didn’t say it was going to be this hot,” said Sandra Carlson, Clatsop County 4-H coordinator with Oregon State University Extension Service.
At the outdoor arena, girls wearing full equestrian gear — breeches, boots, shirts buttoned to the throat, long-sleeved riding jackets and helmets — lined up with their horses. Later, Kaitlyn Landwehr leaned back in a chair outside her horse Jake’s stall. She was resting, but also keeping an eye on him to make sure he didn’t start to show any signs of heat sickness.
The animals everyone was most worried about, however, were the pigs. Swine can’t regulate their body temperature by sweating in the way people can, or by panting as dogs can. They find other ways to keep cool, like wallowing in mud, for example. At the fairgrounds, they’re stuck. They can burrow through the wood chips in their pens and reach the indoor arena’s concrete floor, but this only provides a small amount of relief.
To keep the pigs cool, swine supervisor Tim Clark and his crew rigged up a misting system, last used in 2015, all along the pig enclosures. Many 4-H kids supplemented this with hand-held spray bottles, giving their pigs an extra misting here and there.
On top of worrying if their pigs will behave in front of the judges, kids in 4-H now also had to worry about their animal’s health overall.
“They’ve been working for this all year and to have overheating animals is an extra layer of stress,” said Carlson. But, she added, “It’s also about learning lessons.”
The coast is expected to cool down somewhat this weekend with temperatures in the 70s.