Seattle may be the most vaccinated city in the nation, but it's also the most ill-prepared metro area to weather a historic heatwave.
For years, Seattle was one of the last places you could beat the heat by flipping a switch. While around 91% of U.S. homes have air conditioning, 44% of Seattle homes come with central cooling, according to the American Housing Survey. That's the lowest in the nation, next to San Francisco and Portland, and is up from 31% in 2013.
Over the weekend, Seattle saw more hundred-degree weather than it has in 66 years. On Saturday, temperatures in Seattle soared to 100 degrees Fahrenheit before 4 p.m. and again on Sunday around 2 p.m. to a record of 104 degrees. By Monday at 11 a.m., the Emerald City had broken triple digits again at 106 degrees. Western Washington remains under an excessive heat warning until Tuesday night, when temperatures could fall back into the 90s.
For the past 72 hours, Seattleites without air conditioning of their own have had to venture out into triple-digit heat. As of Monday, the city of Seattle had opened 36 cooling centers in the city of 750,000 people. They include six senior centers, three community centers, 10 hygiene centers, and two shelters for people experiencing homelessness, along with 30 beaches, pools, spray parks, and wading pools.
Senior Centers open no earlier than 8:20 a.m. and are open no later than 5 p.m. Two shelters for homeless individuals—Urban Rest Stop and the Salvation Army White Center Community Center—remain open through the earlier evening.
Online retail giant Amazon announced they would convert their meeting center in Downtown Seattle into a cooling center that will house 1,000 and remain open until 8 p.m. Monday. West Seattle Christian Church will leave its gym open as a cooling center until 5 p.m., according to their Facebook page. It will stay open until no longer needed.
Last summer, Seattle did not provide cooling centers or shelters from the wildfire smoke when COVID-19 vaccinations weren't available. This year, people will have between 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. to keep cool at one of the library's 13 branches. After hours temperatures on Saturday and Sunday remained at 75 and 81 degrees by midnight before reaching 90 degrees by 6 a.m.
In a statement, Mayor Jenny Durkan's office confirmed the city does not plan to extend those hours beyond 6 p.m. City officials say the library system has yet to find the people or the money to keep the lights on. Last fall, Durkan pushed for a $5.8 million cut to the Seattle City Library in the 2021 city budget.
“Because we are still working toward building our staffing levels back up to pre-pandemic levels, and because we have already redeployed available Library staff, we are unable to extend Library hours past 6 p.m.,” Kamaria Hightower, a spokesperson with Durkan's office, wrote. “Thanks to support from the City's Seattle Rescue Plan, we'll be increasing staffing and reopening additional libraries for more hours throughout the summer.”
Temperatures rose to 117 degrees in parts of Washington Monday. Nightly temperatures may not fall below 78 degrees until 2:00 a.m in Seattle, the National Weather Service reports. The heat is severe enough that asphalt cracked under strain in West Seattle.
Masks will be required through June 30, when King County expects to lift most of its remaining COVID restrictions. Gov. Jay Inslee lifted social distancing and capacity restraints on Friday.
Over the weekend, Sound Transit announced the heatwave had slowed down Link light-rail trains because of hot rail tracks. The agency also warned of delays.
So far, city power outages have been limited. As of Monday afternoon, Puget Sound Energy Active reported 9,477 customers were experiencing 80 separate outages from Olympia to Bellingham.
Seattleites can find more information on cooling centers in their area here.
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