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There was more on fire than the performances over the weekend and the 2020 Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., where a historic heat wave broke over the city sending temperatures into the triple-digits and causing hospitalizations and meet delays.
Temperatures shot up to a blistering 110°F by 4 p.m. Sunday to surpass the city’s all-time record high of 108 degrees. (The previous record was set in August of 1981.) For reference, the average temperature in Eugene in June is 72.5°F.
Eugene, Oregon has also joined the 110°F club this afternoon. This temperature breaks their ALL TIME record high temperature of 108°F set on August 9th 1981. Records for this site go back to the 1890s. Their dewpoint is also running 65-67°F, too! #pdxtst #orwx #wawx
— NWS Portland (@NWSPortland) June 27, 2021
— The Duck (@TheOregonDuck) June 28, 2021
As the heat began to rise over the weekend, attention at Hayward Field began to shift from races to the boiling temperatures on the track. The women’s 10,000-meter final was moved to 10 a.m. on Saturday (originally slated for that evening) to avoid extreme heat.
Still, it was a toasty 85°F on the track when the gun went off for the race, and 87°F by the time it concluded. Alicia Monson, who placed third in the event to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, was hospitalized due heat exhaustion after the race.
“It’s not every day that you become an Olympian and also get hospitalized from both heat stroke and hypothermia,” Monson quipped in an Instagram post on Sunday. “Afterwards I experienced heat exhaustion and then went hypothermic after a few minutes in an ice tub. Got some IVs at the hospital, and they kept me overnight to be sure I would recover well. They did tests to make sure there was not damage or stress on my heart with the Olympics coming up. Things are looking normal and I am feeling good. I’m so excited to represent the US on the Olympic team!”
A few hours after the end of the women’s 10,000-meter final temperatures cracked into the triple-digits.
The men’s 5,000-meter final was moved to 10 a.m. PT on Sunday when temperatures were predicted to (and did) smash record highs. Unsurprisingly, athletes welcomed the schedule rearrangement.
“I’m certainly not mad about it,” Erik Jenkins, who won his 5,000-meter semifinal heat on Thursday, told The Register-Guard when asked about the rescheduling of the event. “A guy like me, look at me, I’m a walking solar panel out there. I haven’t done the best in the heat. So yeah, it’s different. I would have been fine with it if it had been at 4:30, (but) I’m certainly not mad that it’s at 10.”
Eric Jenkins said that he is not complaining about USATF moving Sunday's 5,000m final at the Olympic Trials to a 10 a.m. start on a day where the high temperature is expected to reach 111 in Eugene.
"Look at me, I’m a walking solar panel out there." pic.twitter.com/KSA8GHerc5
— Jonathan Gault (@jgault13) June 25, 2021
There was even some discussion that the men’s 5,000-meter final should have been moved up to an earlier hour on Sunday.
“When we were out there this morning, I’m thinking obviously you should have moved it up even earlier because this is the hottest I’ll ever be. Until this afternoon in Eugene it was legitimately unbearable,” Kyle Merber explained on the CITIUS MAG Podcast with Chris Chavez as the two summarized the meet, including the schedule re-arrangements due to extreme weather conditions.
By the end of the event it was 89°F and even hotter on the track.
At the end of the men’s 5000m final today (10:20am) it was 89F outside and 127F on the track.
— Justin Britton (@Justin_Britton) June 27, 2021
By mid-day the temperature on the track hit a scorching 146.8°F as evidenced by track and field photographer Jeff Cohen’s extremely alarming Instagram post. Meet officials eventually suspended events around 3:30 p.m. PT on Sunday announcing in a statement that events would be delayed until 8: 30 p.m due to the dangerous temperatures.
Why Was It So Damn Hot?
Prolonged triple digit temperatures are exceedingly rare for Eugene, where temperatures are expected to remain at record highs Monday and Tuesday.
According to National Geographic, the cause of these unprecedented temperatures is a phenomena known as a “heat dome” — which is pretty much what it sounds like. A zone of high pressure that sits over a region (in this case, the Pacific Northwest) trapping hot air. The heat itself is the result of a heatwave that can last several days, the heat dome sustains the heatwave’s hellish temperatures in a region.
So why are these unprecedented temperatures and climate phenomena happening now? It’s reasonable to assume that climate change has a lot to do with it. Scientists have been telling us for years that greenhouse gas emissions will make extreme heat more frequent. In fact, heat waves have become more common in the U.S. since the 1960s, and scientists are predicting that by the middle of this century we will have 20-30 more above-90°F days in the U.S.
As for the Pacific Northwest, the region is expected to warm as much as 5.8°F on average by 2050. And as this weekend confirmed, that’s going to be bad news for track athletes and fans if we continue on this trajectory.