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NASA computer model image showing the unusual heat in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. (NASA Earth Obseravtory)

After reaching an unprecedented peak, the ferocious heat wave in the Pacific Northwest is retreating inland on Tuesday, sparing some of the biggest cities, including Seattle, from another day of record-breaking heat.

Why it matters: The worst heat wave on record in the Pacific Northwest has had a wide range of impacts, from damaging public transit infrastructure — rails failed and roads buckled — to public health issues. This event is not over, given the continued record high temperatures in areas further away from the coast.

The big picture: A highly unusual weather pattern that statistically has less than a 1-in-several-thousand-year chance of occurring is starting to shift and weaken slightly over the Pacific Northwest. The area of high pressure aloft is colloquially known as a "heat dome," and it will still yield unusually hot temperatures throughout parts of Canada and parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana during the next few days.

  • On Monday, the heat dome resulted in temperatures as high as 25–50°F above average across multiple states and British Columbia.
  • This heat, combined with a worsening drought, helped fuel multiple wildfires across Western states Monday.

By the numbers: The heat on Monday shocked meteorologists and climate scientists alike.

  • Portland, Oregon, set an all-time high temperature of 112°F on Sunday, only to eclipse that on Monday, with a high of 116°F.
  • Thankfully for the city's residents, cooler winds from the Pacific swept into the city last night, yielding the biggest temperature drop overnight on record there in 24 hours — as temperatures dropped 52°F.
  • In Seattle, the temperature reached 104°F on Sunday, which broke the existing all-time record. It exceeded this on Monday, reaching 108°F. Tuesday is expected to be tame by comparison, with a high around 90°F.
  • Canada is also seeing extreme heat, with the country's June high-temperature record tied on Saturday and smashed on Sunday at Lytton in British Columbia by nearly 3°F, with a high of 116°F. This was broken again Monday, with the same location recording 117.5°F.
  • Incredibly, Lytton got even hotter on Tuesday, however, climbing to 121°F.

According to a bulletin on the heat wave from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), melting glaciers and high altitude snow cover in the Canadian Rockies pose a landslide risk.

“Yukon and North West Territories have recorded their all-time highest temperatures not just in June, but any point in the year.  We are setting records that have no business in being set so early in the season," said Armel Castellan, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, in a statement.

“Overnight lows being higher than our average daytime highs for late June is a really big deal. Our bodies need to cool off and recover before taking on another day of high temperatures," Castellan said.

Between the lines: People in the region are not used to heat of this magnitude, which has made this event an acute health risk. This is especially the case in Canada.

  • “Fewer than 40 per cent of homes have air conditioning on the coast, people are having to go to libraries and shopping malls to find a couple of hours of air conditioning. I have been sleeping in a tent to get some respite from the heat,” said Castellan.

What's next: Heat warnings and advisories are still in effect for parts of the Pacific Northwest, northern Great Basin and Northern Rockies.

  • Spokane, Washington and Boise, Idaho could near their monthly or all-time high temperature records on Tuesday.
  • The heat will be most intense east of the Cascades, where it's possible that a state record for the hottest temperature in Washington history will be tied or broken, at 118°F (a benchmark that was tied on Monday).
  • Wildfire risks will remain elevated across the West, since the heat wave further dried out the already parched landscape. Two large fires, the Lava Fire and Tenant Fire, have grown significantly on Tuesday in northern California.

Go deeper: "Historic" Northwest heat wave shatters records, poses health risks

Go deeper

Oct 4, 2021 - Science

Nobel Prize awarded for research on how humans feel temperature and touch

Members of the Nobel Committee are shown as a screen displays the winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian, at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm on Oct. 4. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images

David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch," the award's committee said Monday.

Driving the news: The pair's research led "to a rapid increase in our understanding of how our nervous system senses heat, cold and mechanical stimuli," per the announcement.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."