Science & Environment

Oregon cities break heat records for July and August

By Todd Milbourn (OPB)
Sept. 2, 2022 11:07 p.m.

Climate change is contributing to steady, unrelenting heat on both sides of the Cascades

The summer of 2022 hasn’t been as headline-grabbing as last summer — when temperatures during the infamous “heat dome” skyrocketed to 116 degrees in Portland.

But it’s been consistently hotter in many places.

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At least 12 Oregon cities experienced the hottest months of July and August on record, according to Oregon State Climatologist Larry O’Neill.

O’Neill, also an associate professor at Oregon State University, examined average weather temperatures across the state and focused on communities with at least 50 to 60 years of consistent data.

He discovered new average-temperature records everywhere from Portland and Eugene in the Willamette Valley to Ontario and Burns in Eastern Oregon. The heat hasn’t spared the typically mild Oregon Coast, either, with Astoria experiencing its second warmest two-month period on record.

“We’re just continuing this trend of every single summer seems to be setting temperature records,” O’Neill said.

Temperatures reached triple-digits in Portland on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. Oregon's State Climatologist says at least 12 Oregon communities have experienced the hottest average July-August temperatures on record.

Temperatures reached triple-digits in Portland on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. Oregon's State Climatologist says at least 12 Oregon communities have experienced the hottest average July-August temperatures on record.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

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While 2022 has seen its share of 100-degree spikes, O’Neill said average temperatures are rising because of steady, unrelenting heat during the day without much relief at night.

O’Neill said one factor is a mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean known as The Blob. Warmer ocean water off the coast generally means more humidity in Western Oregon, and that moisture tends to trap heat at night.

O’Neill said this summer’s heat represents a shift from spring, which was generally cooler and wetter than normal throughout much of the state.

He noted that climate change is creating a sort of “whipsaw effect” when it comes to Oregon’s weather, and Portland is a case in point. He noted that last year’s record-smashing “heat dome” was followed by a snowstorm in April, one of the wettest springs on record and then this summer’s record averages.

While it’s difficult to link any individual weather event to climate change, climate change does make these kinds of swings more likely.

He said the growing unpredictability is especially hard on the state’s agricultural producers and creates risks for Oregon’s water supply. He said rising temperatures create more variability in the climate, which can lead to longer droughts alongside more intense precipitation.

“These 500-year flooding events that we’re seeing now across the world will very likely happen here at some point in the future,” O’Neill said.

The average two-month temperature at Portland International Airport was 74 degrees. That’s the most that the monitor has registered since at least 1938.

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