Not so laid back in ‘Hot­landia’

Port­land, known for rain, swel­ters in a heat wave.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Bryan Den­son

PORT­LAND, Ore. — In a city known for its rainy sea­son — a de­press­ing stretch of mois­ture, gloom and short days that goes from roughly Hal­loween to the Fourth of July — Port­landers hold their sum­mers sa­cred.

Sum­mer in the City of Roses is or­di­nar­ily a re­lent­less run of sun­shine and robin’s-egg blue skies — a time so pleas­ant that Port­landers joke about an un­writ­ten rule: Never tell out­siders about sum­mer, or they might stam­pede here, and even stay.

But this week, as a pun­ish­ing heat wave bears down on Port­land and much of western Ore­gon, Port­landers have given their town such nick­names as “Hot­landia,” along with less po­lite so­bri­quets.

The nearly 640,000 res­i­dents of the city are suf­fer­ing through a rel­a­tive hell on Earth, with tem­per­a­tures climb­ing into the 100s. Wed­nes­day reached 103 in Port­land, an all-time high for that date, and Thurs­day hit 106, an­other record, ac­cord­ing to Ac­cuWeather.

The good news is an ear­lier fore­cast pre­dicted 109.

Sum­mer tem­per­a­tures tend to peak in the 70s, and the av­er­age tem­per­a­ture in Port­land on Aug. 3 is 70.6. The all-time hottest tem­per­a­ture on record in the city, 107, has been recorded three times — the last in 1981.

The mis­ery caused by Port­land’s heat has been com­pounded by large wild­fires in Bri­tish Columbia, Canada, and an­other near Ore­gon’s Mt. Jef­fer­son, which have blown a smoky haze into Port­land, giv­ing pock­ets of the city the look of a back­yard bar­be­cue gone bad.

Usu­ally, on a clear day, you can look at hill­sides and see green conifers that shim­mer in the sum­mer sun. Now, the smoke has given the trees a gray cast, a look usu­ally as­so­ci­ated here with fall. That is, if you can see the trees at all.

“You can’t even see the moun­tains,” said Lori Thomp­son, who was giv­ing a tour to a group of more than a dozen mid­dle-school stu­dents vis­it­ing from Asago, Ja­pan.

Thomp­son stood near a wa­ter foun­tain at the Port­land wa­ter­front, where lit­tle kids, and even a few teens, found re­lief from the heat. The Ja­panese stu­dents got into the wa­ter too.

“This was sup­posed to be a walk­ing tour of Port­land,” she said. “Now it’s a foun­tain tour.”

Run­ning is wildly pop­u­lar in the Port­land area. Adi­das North Amer­ica is based on the north side of Port­land, and nearby Beaver­ton is home to Nike. By mid­morn­ing, when groups of run­ners would nor­mally be huff­ing along, just an oc­ca­sional run­ner could be spot­ted.

Still, Port­landers are try­ing to main­tain a sense of hu­mor, at least on Twitter. This week, one ob­server us­ing the han­dle Les HailYes wryly tweeted about Port­land’s coun­ter­cul­ture rep­u­ta­tion: “It’s so hot in #Port­land that the city is set­ting up beard cool­ing sta­tions for the hip­sters. #Port­landHeatWave.”

As if the heat and haze weren’t bad enough, 30% of house­holds in the Port­land area have no air-con­di­tion­ing, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics re­ported by one of the lo­cal news­pa­pers, Wil­lamette Week.

Port­land-based Stan­dard TV & Ap­pli­ance would sell few, if any, air­con­di­tion­ing units dur­ing a typ­i­cal week in Au­gust, said Diane DeHaven, the com­pany’s mar­ket­ing man­ager.

But late last week, when the string of 100-de­gree days was fore­cast, there was a run on air-con­di­tion­ing units of ev­ery stripe. The shop sold about 100, DeHaven said.

“We’re used to mild weather, and peo­ple nor­mally just suck it up,” she said. But when tem­per­a­tures reach into triple digits, peo­ple go to pieces.

“We panic just like we panic when it starts to snow in Port­land. Our air-con­di­tioner sales are def­i­nitely driven by heat waves,” she said.

“We still have them in stock. Our sup­ply is dwin­dling, but we still have more than the big-box stores. I know Best Buy, they’re out. Wal­Mart, they’re out.”

The ex­treme heat even af­fected the com­muter rail sys­tem.

Port­land’s metropoli­tan train lines have been forced to slow down, caus­ing de­lays. “The heat can cause the cop­per in over­head wires to ex­pand, and it can also cause the rails them­selves to ex­pand,” said Tommy Moore, a spokesman for the TriMet pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tem. Trains that or­di­nar­ily outrun cars on the free­ways have been forced to a rel­a­tive crawl of 35 mph.

Moore, who moved to Port­land from Colorado two weeks ago, was as­ton­ished by the hot weather. He seemed re­lieved to know this week was not nor­mal.

“I’ve lived in hot­ter places,” he said, “but I’m a cool-weather per­son.”

Mult­nomah County has opened cool­ing sta­tions, en­cour­ag­ing res­i­dents to drink lots of wa­ter and avoid al­co­hol, among other mea­sures. But this is Port­land, af­ter all, home to some of the coun­try’s finest craft beer, where the city’s lead­ing beer re­tailer, John’s Mar­ket­place, re­ported a week­long run on kegs and cases.

“It re­ally gets busy af­ter 2 p.m.,” said Rick Erick­son, a day man­ager at John’s, who said sales have probably jumped 50% dur­ing the heat wave. “The beer keeps selling,” he said be­tween sales, at 9:05 a.m., “whether you’re rich or poor.”

While folks in Phoenix and Las Ve­gas might won­der why folks in Port­land are rais­ing such a fuss about a few hot days with low hu­mid­ity, it’s a rel­a­tive thing. Port­land’s cli­mate is more like Lon­don’s. The year-round av­er­age tem­per­a­ture runs about 54 de­grees.

For Mo­hamed Jasin, who works at a down­town food cart called Mawj Iraqi Cuisini, his only re­lief from the heat Thurs­day was a lit­tle elec­tric fan.

Jasin, a 55-year-old Iraqi who left Bagh­dad two years ago, wiped away sweat as he served cus­tomers. “To­day, it’s very hot,” he said. But com­pared to Bagh­dad? He smiled and looked away. “For us, this is OK. No prob­lem.”

Mean­while, there’s no re­lief in sight, through­out western Ore­gon and up into Wash­ing­ton state. Port­land’s Friday fore­cast is milder, but not by much: a high of 97.

Den­son is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

Don Ryan As­so­ci­ated Press

BRADEN DASH­NEY tries to coax Fonzie, his ser­vice dog, into a foun­tain Thurs­day in Port­land, Ore., which has en­dured record-break­ing heat. Sum­mer tem­per­a­tures nor­mally peak in the 70s.

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