I'm a ribbon in the heat now

Last night was one of those gorgeous nights that you get in Portland this time of year. Yesterday's heat was swept away by a wonderful sea breeze that kicked in a little before the sun set at 9 o'clock. Being outside under a big moon was dreamy, and with the windows open, people inside their Rose City houses smiled their knowing smiles. By morning it was in the 50's.

But today you get a different feel around town. The weather forecasters are calling for an extreme heat wave to arrive over the next 24 hours. It's supposed to be in the 90's tomorrow, in the 100's on Saturday and Monday, and the low 110's on Sunday.

Not a typo. I'm seeing forecast highs for Sunday of between 110 and 112.

The all-time hottest temperature recorded at the Portland airport is 107. We've hit it three times, I think, including one brutal spell in August of 1981. I am one of the geezers who was here then. Without air conditioning. Riding the Tri-Met bus back and forth to a downtown job. I can remember that coming home in the late afternoon was not pleasant.

Portland just before a heat wave reminds me a little of Portland just before a snowstorm. The media is going crazy yakking about the weather, and there's an edge on everything. People are making plans. In this case, scoping out shady places and swimming holes in advance. Stores are selling out of things.

But heat hype is different from snow hype in some ways. The biggest difference is that the weather people are often wrong when they predict snow for Portland. But I don't recall them ever being wrong about a heat wave. 

So yes, this weekend is going to be a doozy.

Unlike 40 years ago, Portland now has many thousands of people living in tents on the sidewalks. You have to wonder what those people are going to be doing when the air hits 112. And back in '81, the gangs hadn't arrived here yet to start shooting the place up. Maybe it will be too hot even for a gun battle this weekend. I hope so.

Four decades ago, most Portland homes didn't have air conditioning. That's changed quite a bit in the intervening time, and you can bet that the a.c. will be roaring. Will the city's wimpy electrical grid make it through the extreme temperatures without interruption? You would hope so, but these days it's not wise to take too much about this place for granted.

Highs are expected to stay in the 90's all next week, and so that delicious summer breeze won't be back for a while. Forget the 50's; it might not make it below 75 overnight this weekend. But eventually the cool air will show back up, and you can hear the whole city sigh with relief. In the meantime, get ready to show the kids how to fry an egg on a sidewalk.