Portland has only reached 107 degrees three times in history. This weekend, we are poised to get even hotter, reaching something in the neighborhood of 111 on Sunday. The first time the Rose City was this hot, the US was fighting the Nazis. The time after that, we were in the midst of the Vietnam War.
It got us thinking: What were Portlanders up to the last three times we crept above 106 degrees?
July 2, 1942
In 1942, the first week of July was filled to the brim with news of World War II. The Oregonian’s front page contained an article revealing the plan to ban necktie production as a way of saving “essential war material,” even after the U.S. government had already banned cuffs on pants. Sugar rations were being increased, citizens were being urged to buy war bonds and stamps, and any 4th of July fireworks were banned, all in an effort to save supplies for US troops.
The heat wave itself was a headline story, especially because of what it led to: 18 deaths. Eighteen Portlanders, between the ages of 53 and 83, were reported to have died as a result of the heat, collapsing at home or suffering from heat stroke while at work.
On a positive note, a leading and heartwarming story of the day was the marriage of Ralph Bottolfson and Dorothy Anthony. Bottolfson was considered dead after he was unable to be located at his work place, Pearl Harbor, following the December 7 bombing. He soon returned to Portland, very much alive, to the surprise of his family and his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Anthony.
The best ways to beat the heat at this time, per the paper, were iced drinks (with a surprising emphasis on iced coffee), light clothing, and taking a dip in the water. Portlanders were commonly seen taking naps in public parks under the shade, laying underneath sprinklers, or splashing in a fountain.
July 30, 1965
The next time Portland reached 107 degrees, it was in the shadow of another war: this time in Vietnam. With the high heat came an extreme fire danger as well, and a 300-acre wild fire burned nearby in Washington state.
Oregon and Washington weren’t the only states suffering from wild weather in 1965, either. The Eastern states were experiencing a drought, the West was being slammed with rain, and the Central US was being hit with tornadoes, heavy rains, and floods.
Only 10% of homes had air conditioning at the time, while the other 90% stuck with “swamp coolers” that usually were in the form of a fan over a bucket of cold water or ice, which would cool the air.
In the same Oregonian edition that discussed Portland’s historic heat wave, the Lloyd Center ran an ad for its 5-year anniversary celebration. The festivities included a parade, clowns, ventriloquist comedy acts, discounts at many stores, and an impressive array of musicians, including Louis Armstrong, America’s favorite trumpeter. Armstrong had performed at Lloyd Center just two years prior, bringing 30,000 fans in total.
August 10, 1981
The most recent time Portland climbed to 107, the West Coast was once again seeing fire, and Oregon residents were being asked to conserve water. Oregon itself had lost over 11,000 acres of national forest, and city officials were suggesting an odd-even water conservation method, where even number addresses could water their lawns on even numbered days, and vice-versa.
Swimming pools, lakes, and the ocean were being swarmed by Oregonians trying to cool down, and even Mt Hood saw a rush of visitors who were still able to ski. Air conditioning stores also saw a huge increase in customers and sales.
One of the more common ways to stay cool during this heat wave, per the Oregonian, was beer (no surprise). Portland Distributing Co. reported having to hire more employees as their beer and liquor sales increased 40 percent with the rising temperatures. Doctors at the time recommended Gatorade, but evidently, cold beer has long been a staple in the Portlander’s battle against heat.
This weekend is going to be rough. No two ways about it. Stay hydrated, stay cool, and if you’re wondering how you can help your vulnerable neighbors during the heat wave, check out our guide here.