PORTLAND, Ore. — If you lived in Portland during the summer of 2021, changes are you remember the historic June heat wave that killed nearly 70 people in Multnomah County alone.
"No house in Portland was built for the climate that we have now, because our climate is changing so fast," said Jonna Papaefthimiou, Chief Resilience Officer with Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Management. "It was so heartbreaking for us. It was also a clear signal that climate change is not something that is going to happen in the future — it is hitting us hard right now."
The City of Portland, Multnomah County and affordable housing provider Home Forward partnered with the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management for a heat study last year to help make the city more prepared for future high heat.
The study tracked temperatures inside three housing units including Peaceful Villa in Southeast Portland, Hollywood apartments in Northeast Portland and Northwest Tower in Northwest Portland.
"We had volunteers sign up from every floor of the buildings so we can compare top story to the bottom story," said Papaefthimiou. "And then we came and installed a temperature sensor inside their apartment."
By doing this, the Emergency Bureau was able to track indoor temperature in all three buildings every hour, from July through September.
The study found that all 49 participating units reached 80 degrees on multiple days. Nine of them exceeded 90 degrees and 43 of the residents reported having trouble sleeping, heavy sweating, headaches and anxiety. Only 35 of them had their own air conditioner.
According to the survey, someone at the Peaceful Villa units and Northwest Tower suffered a heat-related death during the heat dome two years ago.
KGW spoke to a resident who has lived at Peaceful Villa for the past three years. While she didn’t participate in the survey she shared with KGW what she did to stay cool during the heat wave.
"I just tried to keep my windows closed and the air conditioner in the windows so that the cool air stays in," said Michele Longfox, who lives at Peaceful Villa. "It could be nice if the city or county would help insert our air conditioners in the windows, but I don’t expect that."
Within the next year, Home Forward said it will start distributing thermal curtains and dehumidifiers and provide residents with classes on heat safety, plus using paper notices for weather alerts near common populated areas.
"We're also thinking at the city about medium and long term things. Like planting more trees, reducing overhead islands, requiring more HVAC in new buildings so that over time we can do those bigger, harder interventions so everybody is in a safe place in the end," said Papaefthimiou.