Report from the front lines of the heatwave apocalypse

Greetings from eastern Washington state, where each of the past three days have broken all previous heat records (and it’s still June!).  Today will hopefully be the first day in nearly a week where the high will not reach triple digits, but the forecast predicts high temps in the upper 90s/100s for at least the next 10 days, so we have a ways to go.  We’ve had several days where the temps have reached 110+, and have seen widespread planned and unplanned blackouts.  I’m sure you’ve all seen the headlines, but know the heatwave we’ve been experiencing throughout the Pacific Northwest is unprecedented.  I’ll add that there is another looming disaster that I fear might push things over the edge; there is a nation-wide chlorine shortage that is hitting the west coast particularly hard.  I wouldn’t be shocked if boil notices were issued soon.  It’s easy to imagine how a boil notice during 110 degree weather with rolling blackouts, along with the forest-fire smoke we all know is coming, will create a downright dangerous situation.

I, like many in this region, don’t have air conditioning.  I’ve lived in the PNW for several decades, and other than a week or so each summer, AC simply isn’t needed and has not been a part of building plans.  Our usual high temps for this time of year are in the upper 70s, so right now we’re running about 40 degrees hot.  I’ve taken measures to insulate and make my 100+ year old house as efficient as possible, and when the temperature is “normal” we do quite well.  We have storm windows, efficient siding, an attic fan, energy-efficient curtains and shades, etc.  We have done the eco-friendly responsible thing, but it is clear that that approach is no longer sustainable if this weather persists.  We really have done everything right, which is why this is so frustrating and humbling.

Perhaps the biggest challenge has come from the fact that our “low” temperatures each night are only getting down to the high 70s.  This all but makes the “open up and cool your house down at night” approach futile.  Each day I’ve watched the interior temperature in my home rise: at 5am we’re lucky if the interior temperature is lower than 85.  By 5pm the interior temperature has been reaching the upper 90s.  The house is simply cooking, you can feel the heat in the floor as you walk barefoot, or in a plate that you pull from the cabinet.  The house, and everything in it, is heating up and retaining that heat. Our front door has become so warped that it is nearly impossible to close and lock.  The siding on a neighbors house is literally peeling off.  The room temperature in our kitchen is so high that the refrigerator is running non-stop, pushing its motor harder than was ever intended. Our attic temperature is so high I’m terrified of fire.  On a wider social/infrastructure scale, the electrical grid is not at all equipped to deal with the combination of heat and electrical use (hence the planned and unplanned blackouts), asphalt roads are literally cracking and buckling, and tap water is running warm and tastes terrible.

My preps have helped a bit: I’m double-filtering our water and have plenty of water stored, so we should be okay on that front for a bit.  I’ve covered the south and west facing windows with cheap mylar emergency blankets.  It’s made the house look like a baked potato wrapped in tinfoil, but has likely kept the interior temps down a bit.  We have very strategically placed fans all over the house, and have been doing all the recommended things to keep cool.  We have a generator to power things if the rolling blackouts turn to days-long blackouts.  But that all said, if the weather were to stay like this for several more days I suspect we’d soon have interior temps over 100, and perhaps eventually reach temps hotter than the exterior highs.  It’s become very clear that air conditioning, along with an independent means to power it in case of grid failure, is a vital prep for this new world we live in.



  • Comments (34)

    • 4

      I sure do feel for you guys. First Texas went through that abnormal freeze earlier this year and now Washington and the PNW is dealing with incredible heat. Both locations were woefully unprepared because it has never happened there before, grids are affected or close to being affected, people are bunkering down and trying to insulate their homes, the list goes on and on and it’s creepy how similar these two events are.

      I just find it interesting how these disasters are occurring and I don’t know if it’s that they always have occurred and I never paid attention to them or if they are just ramping up now.

      So what does your fan situation look like, how many do you have, do you have all your windows closed, do you ever open them, how are you staying cool, do you have any pets that are struggling through this with you?

      I also think it is neat to see preps in action, and am glad you did prepare. I’m sure you are very grateful to have water filters so you don’t have to boil all your water if a boil recommendation went out, you don’t need any more heat in that house.

      Thanks for the update! Wish I could come up there and give you a snow cone to help out.

      • 3

        I believe these disasters are very much a new phenomena.  That is not to suggest we haven’t had extreme weather in the past, but the past five years we can easily track a far more extreme trend across the American West (and really the entire world) that is undeniable.  I have zero doubt the climate is changing at a freighting pace, and not in ways that are beneficial to human life.

        We’ve got a complex system of window box fans pushing and pulling air through the house. Fans on the ‘cool’ side of the house are drawing air in, while fans on the hot side pull it out.  Under normal circumstances this system works great, problem now is there really isn’t any cool air to pull in. 

        It has been miserable, especially for my 10 year old dog who has a cold-weather coat!

      • 1

        Good afternoon Matthew,

        Some climate change is viewed as representing goodness.

        A minor and a major example:

        The opening of the Northwest Passage up in Canada is being watched by industry and governments. Cargo costs are reduced.  It’s not yet open enough to be a viable route, but again, it is being watched.

        The Northeast Passage, also known as the Eastern Passage, Russian Arctic grain ports to Chinese ports are already delivering grain shipments are lower costs than other routes. These lower costs for food deemed to reduce chances of warfare.

    • 3

      Wow, this sounds even more miserable than I feared it was— and reading your post had me worried about our house. We were VERY lucky that a couple of our friends got married in California this past weekend, so we left town on Friday before it got bad, and since we’d decided to make a vacation out of the wedding trip, we’ve not yet gone back up north. 

      Hang in there!

      • 3

        It indeed is miserable, lucky you to be away.  Things finally cooled down a bit last night here in Spokane, which has brought some reprieve, but the high is still supposed to reach 98 today.  I keep laughing at myself thinking about how all of a sudden 98 degrees doesn’t sound all that bad.  If I recall you are in Portland, which is my hometown and where my folks live.  As I’m sure you’ve kept up on, they had a brutal couple of days with 115+ degree days, but it seems to have cooled off considerably since then.  The jet stream has pushed the heat dome east of the Cascades, so you west-siders are looking pretty good (again, comparatively speaking – it’s still way hotter than it should be). 

      • 2

        I know— 98 doesn’t sound that bad to me, either, anymore, and didn’t even have to endure any of this. And yes, we’re in Portland, so as I put on a down jacket to walk to the coffee shop in blowing fog in San Francisco, I was doing this mental inventory of everything in our house that might melt or combust in our absence. I can’t even imagine how hot it got in our attic when it was over 110 outside. Several years ago, before I moved to Oregon, I lived in a 1910 wood-framed house with an unventilated attic. We had one really hot summer during the period I lived there. It would cool off at night (California coast), but the heat would keep radiating into the living space from the attic. So it would be 85 or 90 in the house (after 98 degree highs during the day), and 65 outside. Now I try to imagine 115 on our attic, nobody home to air out the house, and no night time cool-off. We have a friend tending to our plants and two VERY attentive neighbors, so I assume I would have heard by now if the place spontaneously combusted… but I’ll be ill at ease until I get back to the house and can assess the damage myself.

        I hope your parents and all your people in Portland are okay. I hope things get back to normal in the PNW soon. Though my sense is that events like this will definitely be part of the new normal for the region going forward. :/

    • 3

      Man that sounds literally like hell on earth to me, over here in the UK we rarely have AC so when it gets warm we have to improvise.

      One tip that can help is to set up an electric fan blowing down and across a washing up bowl full of cold  water in in the bedroom, the evap and air circ work to help cool the room down a bit.  Dont put the fan anywhere close enough so that if it got bumped it would topple into the water though.

      Another is if you have your own water supply is to set up a lawn sprinkler on the roof to draw the heat out of your attack, and it also helps reduce fire risks and sidings from warping.

      • 4

        Thanks Bill.  The weather in the UK and the Pacific Northwest are similar in may ways, which is exactly why this is such a challenge; nobody, from individuals to government organizations, are prepared to deal with this kind of heat.  That is the horrifying reality of climate change- the infrastructure and systems we’ve built over generations are simply not designed for this, and the update they will need to meet the challenge is staggering. 

        We had been experimenting with various ice-bucket/cold-water remedies, but we decided to stop once it became clear that our refrigerator/freezer was struggling we pulled back, not wanting to add any additional stress to it by repeatedly cooling and freezing water.  If this fridge makes it through this heatwave it will deserve a medal.

        I have been periodically dosing the roof with our garden hose, but we’re also in an extreme drought so that too is unsustainable.  It really is a dangerous and miserable situation we are in. 

      • 4

        These are really very minor things, but maybe it helps you a teeny bit:

        1) Pull the fridge out from the wall and remove the bottom grills on the front and back. Vacuum the accumulated junk off the cooling coils underneath the fridge. Use a can of compressed air to blow out whatever you can’t suck out. If you haven’t done this in awhile, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much more efficiently the fridge will work. (And there’s probably enough dog hair accumulated down there to weave yourself a new winter jacket.)

        2) Clean the dryer vent where it exits the house (if you have one & can get to it). Your dryer will dry faster & add less heat to your already unbearable situation.

        Hang in there! This too shall pass…

        -WS (waiting for Hurricane Elsa in Florida)

      • 2

        Samurai, thanks for the great tip/reminder about pulling the fridge away from the wall and giving it a good cleaning.  I try to keep in in good shape but hadn’t thought about doing either of those during the heatwave.  

        One nice thing about the heatwave is that it has made the dryer completely unnecessary.  We’re simply hanging things throughout the house and letting them air dry- it helps cool things down a bit while saving electricity, and it’s amazing how quickly things dry out.

        I hope Elsa doesn’t cause too much trouble for you!

    • 4

      One thing I remember from our time in Kansas is how in high summer many locals stop using pottery and crockery to eat off and go onto paper plates and plastic cutlery to cut the need to heat up the house. , Many also relocate into cellers, basements and storm shelters to sleep as its cooler

      • 2

        In their situation were they avoiding using pottery and crockery because they would wash them with hot water? Just trying to figure out why using pottery would lead to heating up the house.

        Good to see you again Bill!

      • 4

        Yup they had to heat the hot water to do the washing up, which in turn heated the house up even more, They also stopped drinking coffee during the day and went for iced tea brewed in a glass jar out in the sun.

      • 3

        Makes sense. I wouldn’t want to wash dishes either if it was blistering hot out.

      • 3

        FYI most soaps and detergents these days are formulated to work just fine in cold water.  Warm water used to be needed to breakdown the various components in the soaps, but new technology has alleviated that need.

        And yes to sun-brewed beverages!!!!

    • 6

      I’m glad to hear it has finally cooled a little east of the Cascades. I’m lived south of Portland my whole life and have not seen anything like this so early in the summer. We were lucky enough to have central A/C, but even it had a hard time keeping up. I now really hate the skylights that came with our house, whereas previously they were just an annoyance. I am starting the hunt for blinds or covers that can be put on them during the summer months. 
      When news of the heat dome first hit, I stopped delaying and finally picked out and had delivered a generator that would be strong enough to keep our freezer and refrigerators going and a few fans too. (Thank you to the guides on this site for all the great advice! I couldn’t have picked the best one for us without you!!) That led me to realize that we got rid of all our old fans last year when we moved, so I got a couple of those. I need to order a few more, but didn’t want to take them from local stock for those that needed them during the heat wave. 
      This is our first year with a small garden and we lost most of it, despite my husbands efforts to keep it watered. I was excited to see some beautiful blueberries on our plants today though! We’re learning though, so we’re going to redo our beds before next year to increase the soil depth. I think they were just too shallow this year. 
      wishing you all the best and praying for some rain for all of us!!

      • 5

        We recently covered all the windows on South and West facing sides of our house.  I used the kits from Solar Screen Outlet.  It was about $50/window and the frames are pre-cut for fairly easy assembly.  They have an attachment option that uses industrial strength velcro which would probably work on your roof.  Having a shade on the exterior is better in that it prevents the heat/energy from getting to the window and into your house rather than putting a shade on the inside.  The down-side of course would be getting on your roof twice every year to install and remove them.  Something to think about.  I also lost just about everything I planted.  We haven’t had 110+ this year but have been consistently 98-105 for weeks which is unusual here.

      • 4

        Thanks, I’ll check out the Solar Screen Outlet.

      • 3

        We sure are glad that you found the guides to be helpful in your decision of buying a generator. Having a backup source of power must be such a comfort that you will not suffer of overheating or freezing, that you can continue to power devices, and not have your food spoil. 

        Nice to hear about your trial and error with your garden, looks like you are on the right path!

    • 6

      I Don’t know why I just remembered this now, instead of like, a month ago when it would’ve been more useful, but we adopted over the last winter a window tint film treatment that blocks like, some 95% of UV/Infrared. It’s reasonably inexpensive, like 30 USD for 24 inches by 6 feet, which covered most of a bay window and the small bathroom window.

      I live in an adobe/straw clay mud house, and AC in window or central formats just aren’t feasable. All we really end up with is personal fans and timing with the big box fan for cooler night air and we have to min max keeping the house cool or warm aggresively, even without these extremes.

      The difference it’s made has been measurable, the bay window faces the east and used to heat up the top part of the house in just a few hours to unbearable temperatures. Now, combined with some light colored curtains, the 90-98 degree F bout we had a few weeks ago was managable, as long as we closed up the house before like, 9 AM. We only have it on one window, but are planning to do most of the others, which would likely keep the entire house cooler than ever.

      You can get it in other formulations, like there’s a 50% reduction type, 30% etc, then there’s colors, mirriored or not, security I think, and sticky backed or static cling. We have 95% mirrored static cling and you just spray some soapy water on the window, squeegee it on, and let it dry. It’s straight foward.

      It also kind of helped in the winter to reflect warmth back from the windows into the rest of the house, although I think some bubble wrap would be more helpful. We also get the benefit of the house not being as easily looked into. Can’t let the neighbors see all the mess. 

      Maybe the tint with bubble wrap on it would insulate the windows well enough on really hot days to at least keep the interior livable.

      • 3

        How does the tint affect light input into the house? Are you now living in a dark cave with that 95% blockage?

      • 4

        I added some of these to our garage door windows.  It doesn’t drop the total amount of light as much as the UV – something like 10% light transmissivity reduction for the 95% UV reduction.  The ones I got cling with soapy water and can get wrinkles when they dry but also are simple to remove. 

      • 4

        Any chance someone with these window tinting systems could take a picture and post it?  I’d really like to see what it looks like.

      • 4

        Not my images but approximately what it’s like.

        i also read back up into how they rate window films and whewey, it’s a bit confusing. They have VLT/Visible Light Transmission, UV rejection, and Solar energy/Heat rejection and infrared rejection.

        So, the treatment I have is  15% VLT, which means it allows 15% of outside visible light in. It’s very much like a light curtain like I mentioned, and with a curtain over it, the room is heavily shaded. It has 99% UV rejection, which is nice, and 50% heat rejection, which since it’s a cheaper brand could mean a lot of things. 
         My treatment also has a Mirror coating so it’s harder to see inside during the day and obscures backlighting at night.

        The heat rejection is the hardest to figure out, mostly cuz they don’t standardize how it’s tested. They could say UV blocking, or infrared or Solar Energy or something, but it may be for specific parts of the light spectrum, so it may be 100% but thats only for a specific length of light. I tried finding like, numbers or something to follow this with but stuff from Home Depot didn’t have any spcifications beyond sizes avalible. Its probably one of those “Pay a little more for a brand name” instead of just whatever off Ebay. But the Ebay stuff seems to work alright, for us at least 



      • 2

        That’s not too bad of a difference. An additional benefit I can see is that your furniture and possessions inside will be protected against UV damage. We’ve seen those old couches that one arm is significantly lighter because it has been in the sun for 20 years.

      • 3

        It’s closer to putting a thin curtain over the window, so maybe well shaded instead of full sun. I don’t think it blocks 95 percent of visible light, but just most of the infrared/UV

    • 3

      This got my attention!  We’re in the Portland, OR area where temps soared as well. Well over 100 people died in Oregon and nearly 500 in W. Canada! 

      We have central AC, but it never even occurred to me that there might be a power outage at the same time as a heat wave!  We bought a generator after the ice storm to power our well pump in an outage but never considered AC in a killer heat wave.

      Will be doing some research on single room AC.

      Thanks for sharing your experience!

      • 2

        Your local stores are probably going to be out of AC units for quite some time because everyone around there went out and bought them all. Hopefully you can snag a deal this Autumn or Winter and be ready for next year.

        I’m going to try and buy some space heaters now while I still can before winter hits.

      • 2

        Power outages during high-heat events is common as demand soars.  This could be very real in the PNW where much of the population didn’t have or use AC and have started.  We’ve had a brown out in SoCal during one that was possibly worse for certain equipment.  We came out unscathed but had shut off circuits to large appliances and other potentially sensitive and expensive-to-replace items (not the AC) as the power was fluctuating quite a bit.  

      • 2

        Alicia, Oregon is systematically dismantling its power generating grid and not doing much of anything to replace it.  Hubs worked for Portland General Electric as a lineman for about 40 years and feels that while we’re not feeling the effect yet, rolling blackouts are an inevitability.  We’re maybe minimally prepared for it.

        I did learn the other day that we’re in an area where PGE will shut off power for public safety in certain fire danger situations.  Things seem to be going pear shaped at an accelerated pace!

      • 2

        Happily, we don’t need one at the moment (until we do!).  But we spent the morning learning about the vast differences between portable and window units, figuring what size we’d need, and checking brand differences on Consumer Reports.  The one we settled on actually is available at Home Depot right now, but we’re not quite prepared to buy it at the moment.

        If we have another killer heat wave and the power goes out, as a last resort we have a semi-underground room that didn’t go above 80 during the last one.

      • 1

        What did you end up learning about portable vs window units? With the window unit, I’d be afraid that a burglar could just push in the unit and have direct access to your window as an entry point to your home.

      • 4

        We started doing research, as we know nothing about air conditioners.  I found that the portable air conditioners had dual BTU ratings.  Window air conditioners have only one BTU rating.  So I set out to discover what the dual BTU ratings on the portables meant.  The answer is that the portable blows hot  exhaust air out the window.  Since this air came from inside the house, it has to be replaced – with hot outside air that seeps through any crack in the in the house, greatly reducing the actual efficiency of the portable AC. And costing a lot more per BTU than a window model.

        We thought we’d like the portability feature, but decided we’ll just camp out in one small area of the house with a window unit, if it comes to that.

        We went from there to looking at window AC units on Consumer Reports, and decided that the LG looks pretty good for us.  We did a quick calculation on the area we’d like to cool, and it looks like 12,000 BTU will do for us.  Much higher and you get into 230V.  I’m seeing generator propane evaporate just for cooling.  The 12,000 BTU model is 115V, I think around 950 watts – we could operate it on our efficient little Honda 2200V and save the big generator fuel for getting water out of the well.

        The window unit would only be actually mounted in the window during a crisis. Stored away at other times, since we have central AC.

        There are also thru-wall units that could offer more security???

      • 1

        Thanks for sharing what you have researched and learned about AC units. I’ve never been in the market to buy one so I don’t know much about them either but have always been curious. Room mate went out and bought one for his room in college in the dorm we lived. That place was hot as heck because of a new desire from the campus to ‘go green’ and limit all AC in the dorms to something ridiculously high. I think they were just trying to save money for themselves. With the AC at full blast, you still were melting. Thinking about it now I should have lit a candle or strapped a hair dryer to the thermostat to trick the system into thinking it was super hot and in turn crank the AC to a colder temperature.

        I have seen some thru-wall units on houses and although they might be more secure than a window unit, I think they still are a weakpoint in your wall that could be kicked in. If I had a thru-wall unit, I would place a metal bracket across the unit on both indoor and outdoor sides. This will hold the unit in place well and slow someone down from kicking it in. 

        You should be fine in your case though of just having a portable unit that would be brought out in an emergency that you could camp by.