SEATTLE — People around here live for the Pacific Northwest summer. And this one had been especially sweet after a long, dark, rainy winter.
Until this week’s swelter moved in.
“My mom lives in Texas, and when I told her we were having a heat wave, she couldn’t stop laughing,” said Meagan Zeman, who fled her 93-degree home, where she was entertaining family, for the shade of a maple in a park along Lake Washington on Thursday afternoon. She moved to Seattle from Dallas about 13 years ago, and these days, she says, “anything over 75 is too hot.”
Prolonged unseasonably hot weather, the result of a high-pressure dome over the western United States, has gripped this corner of the country, where the National Weather Service has issued an excessive-heat warning. Temperatures in parts of the region have hit triple digits, meeting and exceeding daily record highs.
And for the fourth straight day Friday, smoke from British Columbia wildfires created a milky haze here, blocking views of the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges and raising air-quality concerns in parts of Washington state. But the smoke also had a side benefit: It has been tempering some of the sun’s rays, mercifully reducing the temperature by a few degrees, according to the Weather Service.
In Seattle, which has now had 47 days straight without rain, the mercury began climbing steadily this week. By Thursday, temperatures soared to a record 94 degrees, about 17 degrees hotter than normal in a city where just 16 percent of homes have central air conditioning.
Such warm weather is unusual for this area, which is better known for its cool, rainy weather and Pacific Ocean breezes that typically keep summers a comfortable average of 77 degrees.
Aware that folks elsewhere roll their eyes and see the 90s as normal summer weather, many Seattleites have been sent scrambling for the shade of parks, for swimming pools and lakeside beaches, for libraries and movie theaters. The lines at ice-cream shops are long and the Popsicle aisles at supermarkets depleted. Air-conditioning units have been flying off the shelves.
The Seattle Department of Transportation twice this week closed the 100-year-old University Bridge to cool it down, spraying water on the structure to keep the metal from expanding and damaging the span.
On social media, people railed about the hazy heat and shared clever and snarky remedies, such as this one: “If everybody just turned their fans on, we could blow this #smoke to outter-space. #cantbreathe #BlameCanada #seattleheatwave #Seattlesmoke.”
Seattle normally doesn’t see more than three days of 90-plus-degree weather in a year, said Weather Service meteorologist Gary Schneider.
“We’re not used to warm weather around here,” he said. “And some people love it. It gives them a chance to get out on the water. . . . We had a long, wet winter.”
Others not so much.
Many open play fields sat empty during the day Thursday as the temperature climbed. Seattle officials issued a map of cooling facilities, which include public libraries, city pools and senior centers. They urged people to stay hydrated, check on elderly friends, relatives and neighbors, and keep an eye on pets.
In Seward Park, along Lake Washington, Shannon Welles sat in the shade with her parents — who were visiting from Virginia — looking out toward the Cascade Mountains, where on a clear day there is a postcard-perfect view of Mount Rainier. Not now.
Welles grew up in Florida and moved west from Atlanta a few years ago, in part to “get away from the heat,” she said. With no air conditioning, her bedroom in her three-story townhouse is like an oven. So during her parents’ visit, she planned to take them to parks close to the water.
Karen and Ron Welles said they don’t mind the heat much; they’re used to 90-degree summers at home near the Blue Ridge Mountains. Besides, Ron Welles said, “whatever weather you have, that’s it. You roll with it and adapt.”
Frances Goldberg decided the best way to cope with the heat was to get out of town. So she and a nephew headed north for a day trip to Lummi Island, a small artists enclave 20 miles south of the Canadian border that had been spared the smoke that engulfed Seattle. The temperature also was at least 10 to 15 degrees cooler. “It was so pleasant up there, so cool I had to wear a wrap,” Goldberg said. “I grew up in the South where it’s really hot. We moved out here seven years ago, and I think my body is simply not used to this kind of heat.”
Some visitors to the city were more bummed about the smoky haze than the high temperatures.
Near Pike Place Market, a popular tourist destination, Joshua Goines walked with his aunts Wanda Cantrell and Sarita Cantrell-Mayhawk up a steep sidewalk. Goines, who had driven across the country from Michigan with his aunts, was pushing Cantrell-Mayhawk in her wheelchair.
Wearing a long-sleeved knitted sweater, Cantrell-Mayhawk declared that she was “quite comfortable.” Her sister, Wanda, said she prefers the weather to be this way: “I actually want it hot in the summer.”