On July 29, 2009, a scorching weeklong heat wave across the Pacific Northwest peaks with record-high temperatures being set in various area towns. Seattle reaches 103 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time in recorded history while Olympia hits 104 degrees; Kent reaches 106 degrees; Winlock 110 degrees; and Chehalis 111 degrees. Well into a season whose generally sunny weather is already notable for tying Seattle's driest spell ever recorded -- no measurable rain for 29 days (in May and June, until some showers on June 19th) -- the heat suddenly ratchets up during the final week of July.
Amid multiple electrical power outages in various places (including Tacoma, downtown Bellevue, and the University of Washington campus) and the sparking of home-threatening brush fires (such as the 600-acre blaze that broke out near Chelan on the 28th), the National Weather Service issued "hazardous weather condition(s)" warnings and "URGENT" air-stagnation advisories ("THE STABLE AIR MASS WILL LIMIT DISPERSION OF OZONE POLLUTANTS AND AIR QUALITY WILL DETERIORATE"). Air-quality warnings were also posted by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's website noted on the same day that July had already brought seven 90 degree days (including five consecutive days). Most forecasters agreed that daytime highs of 100 or more were on the way.
And it was the rarity of that possibility of reaching triple-digit temperatures which, interestingly, created a minor problem for the KOMO-TV news department. It turns out that their weather forecast graphics were sized for two-digit predictions and the 100 degree forecast for Wednesday the 29th forced some unsightly squeezing to make things fit.
The Old Folks at Home
The National Weather Service also issued their "PRECAUTIONARY / PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS" alert on the 29th:
"AN EXCESSIVE HEAT WARNING MEANS THAT A PROLONGED PERIOD OF DANGEROUSLY HOT TEMPERATURES WILL OCCUR. THE COMBINATION OF HOT TEMPERATURES AND HIGH HUMIDITY WILL COMBINE TO CREATE A DANGEROUS SITUATION IN WHICH HEAT ILLNESSES ARE LIKELY. DRINK PLENTY OF FLUIDS...STAY IN AN AIR-CONDITIONED ROOM...STAY OUT OF THE SUN...AND CHECK UP ON RELATIVES AND NEIGHBORS."
Ice, Ice Baby
Meanwhile, various other news outlets and blogs joined in by offering further advice for staying cool -- including go swimming or splash in the International Fountain at Seattle Center, see a movie, go hang at a library (the Seattle Post-Intelligencer listed 17 that have AC), linger in your grocery store's frozen food section, put ice-cubes in your shirt, put feet in a bucket of ice, or shower and sit naked in front of an electrical fan.
All the while, weather watchers -- and other broiled, toasted, and roasted people -- kept eyes on their thermometers in sweaty anticipation that the all-time Seattle heat record of 100 degrees (recorded on July 24, 1994) would perhaps finally be equaled or beaten. The Seattle Times quoted University of Washington meteorologist Cliff Mass on the 29th as confirming that "This is definitely going to be an historic heat wave." That same day KING-TV reported that more than 100 people had lined up prior to Bothell's Home Depot store's 6:00 a.m. opening in the hopes of procuring fans or air conditioners.
A Matter of Degree
Although the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport's weather station -- which is considered the weather center of record -- recorded Seattle's 103 degrees high at 4:53 p.m., various other sources topped that around town. Boeing Field logged in 104 degrees at 5:53 p.m., the University District's Bartell Drug Store's thermometer scored a blistering 105 degrees at about 3:30 p.m., and The Seattle Times outdoor thermometer was a blazing 107 degrees a couple hours later.
Below is a listing intended to show the inexorable climb of Seattle's area daily high temperatures as logged by the Sea-Tac facility:
- 69 degrees
- 79 degrees
- 86 degrees
- 89 degrees
- 94 degrees
- 97 degrees (Note: The overnight low temperature of 71 degrees, at 4:53 a.m., marked the first time in the 64 years of record-keeping that the temperature did not drop below 70 degrees on this date.)
- 103 degrees (Note: At about 7 a.m., the temperature was 71 degrees -- marking the highest daily low on record, previously held by a 69-degree degree reading on September 2, 1974.)