Why is Seattle so hot? Wild weather sparks climate concerns as Amazon turns HQ into ‘cooling center’

Amazon turned its Meeting Center into a public “cooling center” on Monday with free water for people who needed a place to stay cool amid record-high temperatures outside. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Seattle is scorching.

The heat is so bad that Amazon on Monday opened up one of its buildings at the company’s headquarters to the public as a “cooling center.”

Kanishka Tiwari has been working remotely at his Capitol Hill apartment. But he had to get out on Monday when the temperature inside reached 90 degrees before 10 a.m.

“I’ll probably be here all day,” said Tiwari, a product manager at TikTok who was one of the first people to arrive when Amazon opened its Meeting Center.

Unprecedented high temperatures hit the Pacific Northwest this weekend, with Seattle reaching a record 104 degrees and Portland at 112 on Sunday.

Even hotter weather is predicted for Monday. By 11 a.m. temps at Sea-Tac airport already reached 100 degrees. It’s the first time Seattle has experienced three consecutive triple-digit days of hot weather.

The U.S. National Weather Service in Spokane, Wash., called the current heat wave, “historic, dangerous, prolonged and unprecedented.”

“As there is no previous occurrence of the event we’re experiencing in the local climatological record, it’s somewhat disconcerting to have no analogy to work with,” Seattle’s NWS forecaster said Sunday evening.

So what’s going on, and why is it happening?

Why is it so hot?

The region is experiencing what is called a heat dome. A giant zone of high pressure over the region is compressing the air and generating heat underneath it. In addition, the winds are coming from the East, bringing in inland heat. The winds are expected to shift by Tuesday to from the sea, breaking the intense heat.

Seattle joined much of the country with record temps across the board today. We hit 104° with more on the way tomorrow. Wow. Stay safe my friends. pic.twitter.com/GZlQp67ALU

— Tim Durkan (@timdurkan) June 28, 2021

What does this heat wave have to do with climate change?

Rare weather events are becoming more common throughout the U.S. and globally. And as such events become more frequent, climate scientists have developed ways to assign attribution to climate change, estimating the extent to which a particular event has origins in a shifting climate.

“What it means is that there will be very high attribution to climate change for the upcoming event,” said Gavin Schmidt in a recent tweet. Schmidt is a climatologist, climate modeler and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. He added, “The exact numbers will depend on how hot it really gets. And the hotter it gets, the larger the attribution will be.”

Global mean temperature has already risen about 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, but the average land temperature has risen by 3.2 degrees. Last year tied 2016 as the hottest year on record.

The Pacific Northwest region has warmed nearly 2 degrees since 1900, according to a federal climate assessment examining effects on the region. Climate change is predicted to have drastic effects, from salmon runs to snow pack.

“The past is no longer a reliable guide for the future. These events are becoming more frequent and intense, a trend projected to continue,” tweeted the Oregon Climate Office.

Regardless of cause, Schmidt in his tweet asked people to “stay safe.” And people escaping to the mountains are advised to watch for rising rivers and unstable crossings.

In 2019 only 44% of Seattle homes had air conditioning, by central air or window unit (up from 31% in 2013). Seattle has opened various cooling centers at libraries, churches, and more locations. King County offered other tips on staying cool.

With the accelerated melting of snow and ice around the park, rivers will rise threatening the stability of footbridges and the safety of those who use them. This photo was taken just before noon today of the Wonderland/Carter Falls trail footbridge. NPS photo -pw pic.twitter.com/gRg3FaHatF

— MountRainierNPS (@MountRainierNPS) June 25, 2021

How hot is it?

Temperatures are 25 to 50 degrees above normal, snow is melting rapidly in the mountains and the freezing level is above the summit of Mount Rainier, at 18,000 feet. The evening did not offer much respite — most locations in Western Washington were still in the mid to upper 70s at 2:30 a.m. early Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

Canada reached its all-time heat peak yesterday at 116 degrees in the British Columbia village of Lytton. For comparison, that is only one degree less than the all-time record in Las Vegas. Cities and towns all across the Northwest, from Hoquiam on the Olympic Peninsula to Stampede Pass, at almost 4,000 feet above sea level, hit or tied all-time records. Fire danger east of Interstate 5 is high.

“The heatwave in the Pacific Northwest has essentially tied, or possibly even exceeded, the most severe summer heatwave ever observed in North America,” said Robert Rhode, lead scientist at Berkeley Earth in a tweet.

Why is Bellevue hotter than Seattle?

The eastside of the Seattle region is getting hit worse. The forecast for Monday for the University of Washington is 108 degrees, but Bellevue, only a few miles across Lake Washington, is set for 112 degrees, and further East Issaquah is expected to hit 116 degrees. One reason: the eastside is closer to the mountains and is hit earlier by the hot winds coming from the East.