The Pacific Northwest, especially the state of Oregon, is in the throes of a historic heat wave. During the summer of 2021, it became hotter in the normally mild Willamette Valley than in such heat prone places as Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi, at 111 degrees Fahrenheit.
Although the heat wave has now mostly abated — though the current wild fires are so intense, they are creating their own weather systems — there are still dire predictions of the effect of the heat wave in the Pacific Northwest’s many diverse ecosystems, which range from high deserts in the central part of the state to the rainforests on the coast.
First, the heatwave massively lowered the snow in the Cascades Mountains, which will deprive rivers necessary for keystone species, such as salmon, of the cool water they need. This will decrease the salmon population, which both humans and animals rely on for food. Additionally, although the heat wave has ended, the effects of the higher temperature will also increase the likelihood of more wildfires throughout the state, similar to last summer’s horrifying infernos in the McKenzie River Valley and elsewhere. This is predicted even in such places as the Oregon Coast, a temperate rainforest that was previously safe from wildfires, but was devastated by wildfires in September 2020.
Though scientists and state officials are trying to find ways to keep people safe from these effects of climate change, it may be too little, too late, for much of the state's river systems, which are projected to lose most of the snow melt by 2100. This will have widespread effects on Oregon's wildlife and ecosystems.