Schools, businesses endure record breaking heat

by: Natasha Chen Updated:

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SEATTLE - People in older buildings with no air conditioning and those working outside all endured record -breaking temperatures Wednesday. The temperature at Sea-Tac reached 93 degrees, breaking the record set only a few years ago of 87 degrees in 2009.


Cascade Middle School in the Highline School District is an example of an older building with no air conditioning.
Ellen Dorr, who teaches eighth-grade language arts, has been dreading this day since early this week.

"On Monday I sent a note saying, 'I know it's going to be 90 on Wednesday, and it's already unbearable in here.' So we were brought fans in every classroom and a drinking fountain was put in,'" Dorr said.

Because of her proactive message, 18 fans were delivered to the school. Doors and windows were propped open, and students enjoyed the new drinking fountain.

Dorr has particular trouble when temperatures climb, because, she said, her room gets 15 degrees hotter than outside. She guesses the hot air going through the vents may have something to do with a computer lab added next door.

"We've got kids who have gotten sick during class, like kids have to come out in the hallway, we have to prop the doors open," she said.

A fan was already going at 10 a.m., as students complained of heat.

People working outside also had to take extra precautions.

Fishmongers at Pike Place Fish were told to put extra ice over all the seafood, and to stay hydrated themselves.

"We have a big ice machine in the cooler, and we just keep filling up these buckets as the day goes on. Keep it iced. Ice man cometh," said Jaison Scott, one of the managers.

They used 10 to 12 buckets of ice to cover the fish before the day even started. But even if the heat is unusual for September, Scott said he enjoys having the sun stick around longer.

"We love it. We're prepared any time of the year," he said.

KIRO 7 Meteorologist Brian Monahan answered the following questions about Wednesday's heat:

How many times has Seattle hit 90?

Seattle has hit 90 just one other time this summer, on June 30 (93). This will seem strange to a lot of folks since it's been such a warm summer versus averages. And it has been very warm; it's just that we've spent most of our heat in the 80s. Today will be the 40th time this year we've reached 80+ at Sea-Tac (all of last year we did it just 21 times). Keep in mind, the highest average high in Seattle is 78 degrees. More stats: We've reached 90+ only 14 other times in September, going back approximately 120 years ago.

What's the (lack of) humidity level?

It was less humid this morning (and warmer), so we saw much less fog across western Washington. A better measure of the humidity is the dewpoint temperature (this is an absolute measure). Dewpoints in the 40s and lower are "comfortable/dry," in the 50s some folks start to feel uncomfortable, 60s are getting more humid/muggy, and 70s are "oppressive" (that's Florida/Texas/Memphis humidity). Dewpoints today will be in the low to mid 50s at most -- so for most of us, it will be relatively "dry."

How long will this go on for?

We'll slip back a bit Thursday as the sea breeze kicks back in a bit earlier; but we'll still reach near record highs (Thursday's record is 85 in 1975). Friday stays warm, slipping back into the low 80s, with mid 80s on Saturday. The real pattern change hits on Sunday, as low pressure moves in and brings a chance of storms to western Washington. By the way, the average high temperature right now is 73 -- so we'll be way above that through the weekend.

Why is the heat happening?

Strong ridge of high pressure aloft leads to sinking air, which warms as it sinks. Air is unusually warm aloft. At the same time, low pressure along the coast is pulling the wind down off the Cascades (and Olympics for the coast). This is a "downslope" wind -- as air descends the Cascades and Olympics, it dries out and warms up. The easterly flow also inhibits the development of the afternoon breeze off the water. All of this together leads to unusually warm temperatures. 

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