Mt Adams is an active volcano located in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state. At 12,281 feet(3743m), it is the second highest mountain in the state behind Mt Rainier.
The snowcapped peaks of the Cascade Mountains provide water and electricity for millions of people as well as supporting thousands of square miles of forests and wildlife that live in the rivers and mountains.
During the summer of 2021, along with the coronavirus pandemic and a bit more than normal political-type unrest, the Pacific Northwest experienced it’s hottest summer daytime temperatures in recorded history.
In early June, an extended “heat dome” formed over the entire Pacific Northwest and sent temperatures soaring across the entire region. At about 3000′ in the Cascade Mountains near Mt Adams, I registered 113°F on June 7, 2021.
It seemed like it was over 100° every day. On June 26-28, 2021, it was generally over 110° each day, reaching all time record temps around 116° on June 28. It melted 30% of Mt Rainier’s snowpack in just a few days. A similar loss of snowpack occurred on nearby Mt Adams. This series of photos shows the loss of snowpack on the south side of Mt Adams from July 1 to September 11, 2021.
This prolonged, intense heat had a major impact on everything in the region. The Cascade Mountains were hot, dry and dusty. As the Mt Adams snow rapidly melted away, the water running down mountain streams dwindled to a trickle in a few weeks of record heat.
The Cascade Mountain forests, usually as green a place as you can find, were brown and dusty. On some days, the heat at 3000′ was intense. When the normally cool mountains are over 100°, there is nowhere to run. The only wildlife moving in the heat of the day were mountain butterflies and other insects desperately searching for a drink of water.
Along with the deadly prolonged heat wave came a major increase in the threat of wildfire. Wildfires are now as much a part of the Pacific Northwest summer as 4th of July. The area around Mt Adams has already has large swaths of alpine evergreen forests destroyed by fire, now the serious threat of wildfire begins in June instead of late August.
Thankfully, this part of the Pacific Northwest dodged a huge bullet by not experiencing any major fires. Other places were not so lucky. Oregon, and especially Northern California, suffered some of their worst wildfires in history.
The meteorological conditions that caused the extended “heat dome” are fairly well understood. Some of the details are still being debated, especially the role of climate change in this event. Because of the sudden intensity and prolonged extreme conditions that were so out of the ordinary, it’s hard to deny that the changing climate on this planet, manmade or otherwise, has something to do with this type of weather event. If this type of event is going to be a regular occurrence, then the Pacific Northwest is in big trouble. Just like the thirsty butterflies in the Cascade Mountains, there is no place to run.
We spent most of the record hot summer in the Cascade Mountains riding mountain bikes. There are more photos and account of our experiences in the Cycling section of the watermanatwork.com blog.