Pacific Northwest Heatwave Sends Portlanders to Cafés and Cooling Stations

Image: Portland Heat Wave
People cool off in the Willamette River with the downtown skyline visible in the background on August 2, 2017 in Portland, Oregon. Scorching temperatures are predicted for the Northwest Wednesday and Thursday, with forecasters saying Seattle and Portland could top triple digits and break records.Don Ryan / AP

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By Beth Slovic

PORTLAND, Ore. — On a typical summer day in this bicycle-crazy city, Ryan Ross said he rents about 50 bikes to tourists and visitors who stop by his Waterfront Park kiosk next to the Willamette River.

On Wednesday, as temperatures climbed to a rare high of 103 degrees in Portland, Ross rented far fewer. Just one, in fact. And on Thursday, he called it quits early, closing up shop at 11 a.m. as meteorologists predicted another scorcher — with the high temperature predicted to hit 104 degrees.

People sunbathe and cool off in the Willamette River with the downtown skyline visible in the background on August 2, 2017 in Portland, Oregon.Don Ryan / AP

Since 1940, Portland temperatures have reached 103 degrees or higher only 23 times, according to Evan Bentley of the National Weather Service. And with temperatures originally expected to shoot even higher — to a predicted 107 degrees this week — local elected leaders, public transportation officials and the media went into overdrive to warn people to stay cool, expect delays and check in on their elderly neighbors.

“There’s really no difference between 103 degrees and 107,” said Bentley, a meteorologist. “Both of them are hot and dangerous.”

That’s especially so in Portland, where many households lack air conditioning due to the typically temperate Pacific Northwest climate. Willamette Week, a local alternative newspaper, drew on U.S. Census Bureau data to report that 30 percent of Portland homes don’t have AC.

The heat wave, which The Oregonian dubbed “Hotpocalypse,” prompted officials with TriMet, the local transit agency, to suspend bus and train fares. Multnomah County government, which includes the Portland area, opened cooling centers and urged people to visit local libraries that have air conditioning.

Lili and Irwin Mandel, 85 and 89, opted for a different strategy.

On Thursday, they sipped ice tea and enjoyed the air conditioning of a downtown Portland café. Wearing a red straw hat with a wide brim and oversize red sunglasses, Lili Mandel said the heat hadn’t been too bad for the couple.

“We just think cool thoughts,” she said, gesturing to her husband of 66 years.

Irwin Mandel said his wife, who also wore a red handkerchief tied stylishly around her neck, had a natural advantage. “She’s a really cool cat,” he said.

The Mandels weren’t alone in seeking solace in restaurants.

Nick Zukin, a Portland restaurateur, said he had to lend a hand to his kitchen staff to keep up with demand. All the cooking and the people kept temperatures inside Mi Mero Mole, his Mexican restaurant in Old Town/Chinatown, higher than he would have liked.

“We were full all night with tourists and downtown denizens trying to escape the heat, even if they were escaping from 105 to 85,” he said.

Langstrom Kalstrom, left, and Violet Dashney run through the Salmon Street Springs fountain on August 3, 2017 in Portland, Oregon. Don Ryan / AP

Britty Viazzi, a nanny to a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old, said her method for beating the heat included lots of water. Standing next to a large downtown fountain, where dozens of small children chased blasts of water that shot up from the ground, Viazzi said she and the two kids she watches had visited several of the best splash pads in and around Portland this week.

“We’ve been spending no time at the house,” she said.

She even let the children have raspberry and blueberry popsicles for breakfast.

Michael Cox, a spokesman for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, encouraged adult children to call their parents and make sure they’re OK, especially if they’re elderly.

“They always like it when their children call,” he joked. “Now there’s a really good reason to do that.”

His boss, the mayor, wasn’t letting the heat deter him from hopping on a bike. Cox said Wheeler pedaled 1.6 miles from his home to Portland City Hall and back on Wednesday. He planned to do the same on Thursday.

He had help, though.

The mayor, a triathlete, rode an electrically assisted bike.