The Silent Sufferers of Oregon’s Heat Waves

Back in June, Oregon saw the hottest temperatures ever recorded, with the Willamette Valley reaching up to 117 degrees Fahrenheit. During that stretch, 116 Oregonians died from heat-related causes. While many Oregonians, especially those without air-conditioning, have prayed the worst is over, Oregon’s seasonal forecast suggests that the warmer temperatures have only just begun.   

More above-average temperatures are expected for July and August with little if any rain. Unfortunately, humans are not the only victims of Oregon’s unbearable heat the entire state is feeling the fire.   

Fishy Business   

Oregon’s trout population swims gracefully along several Oregon lakes, ponds, and rivers including locally in the Willamette. Meanwhile, salmon can be found migrating along rivers like the Grande Ronde and Deschutes. Temperatures above 68 degrees Fahrenheit are gravely dangerous for both fish species.  

With summer temperatures lingering above 90 degrees Fahrenheit in most of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, bodies of water like rivers and lakes are having trouble maintaining safe temperatures. In Idaho, officials recently released cool water from Dworshak Dam to alleviate the problem; however, that solution is only temporary.  

“The concern, of course, is that we have this pretty sustained heat wave right now,” Claire McGrath of the federal NOAA Fisheries told OPB. McGrath added that temperatures are estimated to remain in the 100-degree range for weeks in Idaho, which has created a problem that is quickly becoming more and more difficult to control.  

In 2015, nearly an entire group of Sockeye salmon died prematurely due to warm river temperatures. As we continue to see hotter, dryer days, the future of fish in these waters remains uncertain.   

No Wine Left Behind    

While most wine grapes thrive in warm temperatures, Pinot Noir is most popular when derived from grapes in mild climates. Historically, Oregon is known for perfect Pinot-making weather. However, climate change threatens the production of this award-winning Oregon red wine as temperatures spike across wine country, risking sunburn and decay for its delicate grapes.   

“50 years from now, we could be required to change to new grape varieties,” Newburg winery owner Harry Nedry-Peterson told NPR in 2012, a year when the hottest temperature in Oregon only reached 98 degrees.   

Got Milk?   

Even with non-dairy options growing more popular by the day, the U.S. still relies on cow’s milk for a plethora of essential food items. In 2020, U.S. milk production reached a staggering 100 million metric tons. In Oregon, our famous Tillamook cheese can be found on grocery store shelves across the country.  

In uncomfortably hot weather, cows tend to eat less, thus producing less milk. Additionally, hot weather can lessen the quality of their milk, creating milk with altered levels of fat, protein, lactose, and hormones.  

In recent years, farms have already struggled to survive due to a higher demand for property development and the coronavirus pandemic. With hot temperatures continuously popping up in the forecast, Oregon’s farms and their cows could soon be in deep well cowpie.   

By: Rebekah Harcrow