Seattle’s 2021 summer heat dome echoes in King County’s extreme weather plan

Jul 7, 2022, 1:42 PM
A paddle boarder is pictured at Alki Beach as excessive heat warnings remain in effect a day after ...
A paddle boarder is pictured at Alki Beach as excessive heat warnings remain in effect a day after record-breaking temperatures resulted from a historic heatwave throughout the region in Seattle, Washington on June 29, 2021. (Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP) (Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)

King County Council is looking for ways to better protect people from the next wave of extreme weather after last summer’s record-breaking hot temperatures.

“According to the National Weather Service, heat events are the most deadly weather-related emergencies,” council staff Jenny Giambattista said during Wednesday’s meeting.

King County councilmembers used the meeting to discuss ways of developing a plan to shelter the county’s most vulnerable residents in extreme heat. Vulnerable residents include those who are homeless or living in places without adequate protection from extreme weather, senior citizens, and the disabled.

Breakdown of records set during Washington’s heat wave

Washington state’s heat wave last year was the state’s deadliest weather-related disaster on record with 112 casualties.

Heat-related deaths were reported in 20 counties across the state, according to the Washington Department of Health. The extreme heat claimed 28 lives in King County, the most out of any county in the state.

“Last year, we saw three of the five hottest days in King County history happen, not only in the same year, but in the same week,” District 2 Councilmember Girmay Zahilay said.

The 2021 heat wave was described as a “heat dome,” which refers to warm air extending high into the atmosphere, impacting pressure and wind patterns. The “heat dome” essentially shut off the flow of cool marine air off of the Pacific into the state, according to National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

These types of extreme hot weather events are being exacerbated by global heating.

The council is currently working to identify facilities that could be used as shelters as the county’s plan needs to be finalized by next February with shelters operating by next June.

A website is also in development as part of King County’s plan. The site will provide real-time information during weather events with maps of shelters and where to go to get help.

The push is based on the county’s strategic climate action plan from 2020 — which found King County will experience more extreme weather more often.

“Extreme heat is one of King County’s severe weather hazards. We anticipate this happening more often and we encourage everyone to develop an emergency plan to help prepare for and be resilient to this hazard – what are you going to do, where are you going to go, and what supplies do you need before the extreme heat occurs?” asked Brendan McCluskey, Director of the King County Office of Emergency Management. “We also encourage people to stay informed during the extreme heat events, and a good way to do that is to sign up for ALERT King County.”

The council will revisit the plans for a possible vote at their July 20 meeting.

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Seattle’s 2021 summer heat dome echoes in King County’s extreme weather plan