Image: Man cools off at Seattle fountain
Stephen Brashear  /  Getty Images
The International Fountain at the Seattle Center was a popular cooling off spot Wednesday. staff and news service reports
updated 7/30/2009 10:27:12 AM ET 2009-07-30T14:27:12

Forecasters are offering the hope of slightly cooler temperatures to Northwest residents after Seattle recorded the hottest day in its history and Portland fell just 1 degree short of its own record-breaker.

The National Weather Service in Seattle recorded 103 degrees at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, breaking a previous record of 100 degrees, set in downtown Seattle in 1941 and repeated at the airport in 1994.

Jay Albrecht, a Seattle meteorologist with the service, said it's the hottest it has been in Seattle since records dating to 1891. Wednesday was the fifth consecutive day above 85 degrees for Seattle.

In Oregon, heat records were set in cities across the western half of the state, with Portland topping out at 106 degrees, breaking the old record of 100 for the day but falling 1 degree shy of its all-time record of 107. Portland most recently hit the 107 mark in 1981.

Oregon weather data goes back to the 1850s, although meteorologist Charles Dalton said the 107-degree mark, recorded at the Portland airport, reflects records kept at that site since 1941.

"We'll see just a little bit of cooling" Thursday, said meteorologist Ted Buehner in Seattle, with temperatures dropping back to the upper 80s on Friday. "We're finally starting to see some marine air easing onto the coastline."

Flash floods, lightning
The unseasonable heat led to some bizarre complications.

While most of Washington was bone dry, thunderstorms rolling through the Cascade Mountains and foothills dumped as much as 2 inches of rain per hour on scattered spots in the western half of the state, prompting the weather service to issue flash flood warnings.

Rural areas in Oregon and Washington were also told to be on the watch for lightning strikes through the weekend that could turn dry forests into infernos.

The system has also caused some lightning fires, including one in central Washington overnight that forced 140 families to flee.

Conditions along the western Washington corridor, as well as central Washington and Oregon  are "critical for new large fires on through the weekend," according to the Northwest  Interagency Coordination Center. "The probability of large fires will be quite high."

In Washington, the director of the state's public lands office issued a statement saying that "the coming days and weeks could be our biggest test yet" for wildfires this year. Most counties in the state are facing high or very high fire dangers.

Washington state Ecology Department spokesman Larry Altose said his agency had received several reports of dead fish floating in Lake Washington, which separates Seattle from its eastside suburbs. That, too, was due to effects of the hot weather, he said.

Air conditioners not a way of life
Sweltering Seattle residents were encouraged to cool off in libraries, except for five that lacked air conditioning and were closed Wednesday when internal temperatures reached 90 degrees.

In a region where air conditioning is often a rare luxury at home, Portland residents have gotten creative in dealing with the hot summer nights. Paul Lychako and his partner, Kris Sievert, set up an air mattress in their backyard. For 30 summers, he's resisted machine-cooled air.

"I've lived in Southern California, Miami — always managed before," he told The Oregonian. The glitch came Tuesday night when Lychako tumbled down concrete steps leading to the basement, breaking his left arm and striking his head.

On Wednesday, with the arm in a cast, the couple and a friend headed off to snag an air conditioner — fresh off the truck at a Home Depot.

In Seattle, Geno Garcia, a Boeing machinist, headed straight for Sears early Wednesday when his family's air-conditioning unit broke down.

"We could have lived without it, but it would have been uncomfortable," he said, as he stood in line with about 100 others who bought air conditioners.

Garcia said his family plans to keep cool by hunkering down in the one bedroom with air-conditioning. They've already moved their TV, games and necessities into that room and have been eating meals there.

Darren Wilson, a concrete finisher from Puyallup, Wash., started his Seattle street paving job at 5:30 a.m., three hours earlier than usual, to beat the heat.

"I'm drinking lots of water," he said.

Shirley Markstaller, 71, parked herself in front of a fan and read the morning paper at a cooling center in downtown Portland. "I just thought, 'Where's the coolest place?'" she said.

In Olympia, Wash., a group of visitors were hoping to cool off at the popular Heritage Park Fountain, but were disappointed to find that the water had been turned off for regular weekly maintenance.

"We were expecting it to be working," said Lucina Hernandez, 24, of Barcelona, Venezuela. "This is very bad."

109 in Medford, Ore.
In Oregon's Willamette Valley, the thermometer hit 106 at the capital in Salem, and Eugene hit 105, shattering a record 101 for the calendar day in both cities. In southern Oregon, Medford inched past its record of 108 to reach 109 on Wednesday. The previous records for all those cities were from 2003.

At the Tails-A-Wagging doggie day care in Bellingham, Wash., owner Angi Lenz and her staff kept dogs comfortable with special cooling fans, air conditioning, ice toys and water slides. "We have a waiting list to get in this week because of the heat," Lenz said.

Bellingham hit 96, an all-time record, on Wednesday, breaking the old mark of 94, set in 1960. Records there date back to the 1930s.

Not everyone was avoiding the outdoors. Enes Parker, manager of the Lacey Senior Center, said she found indoor air conditioning too cold. Lacey is in Washington, near Olympia.

"I'm one of the few who like the heat," Parker said. "I go outside every so often to warm up. I love the heat. It's always too cold here."

Pacific Northwest

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Sweltering in Seattle


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