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Pacific Northwest expected to endure oppressive heat this weekend amid the West’s drought misery

By Aya Elamroussi and Joe Sutton, CNN

Parts of Oregon and Washington state will be under an excessive heat watch this weekend as scorching, possibly record-breaking heat settles into the region.

The excessive heat watch will go into effect Friday afternoon and continue through at least Monday, the National Weather Service said Tuesday.

Portions of western Washington will see afternoon highs in the 90s, possibly near 100 degrees on Saturday and Sunday, the NWS in Seattle said.

Temperatures could creep into the triple-digits in portions of Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon, including the Willamette Valley, the Lower Columbia River Valley, and the Columbia River Gorge, the NWS in Portland said.

“Strong high pressure over the Pacific Northwest will bring a stretch of unseasonably hot weather to much of southwest Washington and northwest Oregon beginning Friday and lasting through at least next Monday,” NWS said in a statement. “High temperatures will run 20 to 25 degrees above normal for late June at many locations, putting numerous daily records and perhaps a few monthly high temperature records in jeopardy.”

Weekend overnight lows in the region will be in the 60s, which won’t offer much relief, the NWS said.

The Pacific Northwest heat wave is set to strike as much of the Western US has been experiencing a historic and unrelenting drought, the worst in the region in at least 20 years. More than 25% of the West is in an exceptional drought, which is the most severe category used by the US Drought Monitor.

In addition to drastically high temperatures, the region experienced extremely low rain and snowfall over the past year. Less rain and increasing heat waves have led directly to drought conditions and water shortages.

Scientists have blamed climate change for the heat, which has fueled dozens of wildfires across the West.

“Climate change is loading the weather dice against us,” Katharine Hayhoe, a climate researcher and the chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy, told CNN. “We always have a chance of extreme heat, particularly in the summer: But as the world warms, we see that summer heatwaves are coming earlier, lasting longer and are becoming hotter and more intense.”

Wildfires scorch the West as drought continues

Forty-seven active wildfires have burned 519,761 acres across 10 states, with more than 1 million acres burned thus far this year.

Arizona is fighting 11 active wildfires, including the Telegraph fire, which has burned more than 80,000 acres since June 4 and remained below 100% containment as of Tuesday.

The Johnson fire in New Mexico has burned more than 87,000 acres and is at 11% containment, climbing the ranks of the state’s largest fires.

Nevada and Utah, where fire weather watches were issued for portions of the states, had six active large fires burning Tuesday and dry thunderstorms in the forecast threatened to increase the count. While some rain is expected, the storms can produce frequent cloud-to-ground lightning and gusty outflow winds that pump fuel into existing fires — and spark new ones.

The drought and threat of existing and new fires led the National Interagency Fire Center to elevate its preparedness resource response to Level 4, the second-highest level.

Level 4 means much of the country is experiencing wildland fire activity and areas are competing for firefighting resources. It also signifies that half of the nation’s wildfire resources are already committed.

The NIFC called on people to be vigilant.

“The public plays a valuable role in preventing wildfires. On average, nationally, human-caused wildfires comprise 87 percent of all wildfire occurrences every year,” NIFC said in a statement. “Most of these fires can be prevented. We need your help to prevent wildfires.”

CNN’s John Keefe, Rachel Ramirez, Hannah Gard and Monica Garrett contributed to this report.

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