Death toll from recent heat wave climbs to 78 in Washington

Washington state’s death toll from last month’s record-breaking Pacific Northwest heat wave has risen to 78.

A year earlier, Washington had just seven heat-related deaths from mid-June to the end of August, the state Department o Health said Thursday. From 2015 to 2020, there were a total of 39 deaths.

A majority of the deaths from this year’s late June heat wave were in King and Pierce counties, and 19 of the state’s 30 counties have reported heat-related deaths, officials said.

Oregon on Wednesday reported 116 deaths following temperatures that shattered previous all-time records during the three-day heat wave that engulfed Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.

The heat wave was caused by what meteorologists described as a dome of high pressure over the Northwest and worsened by human-caused climate change, which is making such extreme weather events more likely and more intense.

"This huge jump in mortality due to heat is tragic and something many people thought they’d never see in the Pacific Northwest with its mostly moderate climate," Acting State Health Officer Scott Lindquist said in a statement. "But climates are changing, and we see the evidence of that with dramatic weather events, major flooding, historic forest fires, and more."

Seattle, Portland and many other cities broke all-time heat records, with temperatures in some places reaching above 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 Celsius).

Health officials said the death tolls are preliminary because they are waiting for medical examiners and coroners to determine the cause of a number of other deaths. Heat-related deaths by county will be updated weekly online.

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