• Officials in several cities planned to open cooling centers for people to escape the dangerous heat.
  • Many facilities, such as libraries, that had been closed because of COVID-19 have reopened.
  • Air conditioners are flying off store shelves. One Portland hardware store had a four-hour wait Monday to buy one.
  • Electric utilities said the power grid should be able to withstand the demand caused by the heat wave.

Communities across the Northwest are preparing for the unprecedented hot temperatures expected this weekend and warning residents the heat could be deadly.

A heat wave will take hold this weekend and last into early next week with dangerous triple-digit highs threatening all-time records in parts of Washington, Oregon and Idaho. High temperatures are forecast to be more than 20 or even 30 degrees above average.

In Portland, Oregon, where highs could threaten the city’s all-time record of 107 degrees, officials are opening three cooling centers beginning Friday afternoon.

“This is life-threatening heat,” Dr. Jennifer Vines, health officer for Multnomah County, which surrounds Portland, said in a statement. “People need to find someplace cool to spend time during the coming days. And for people who already have somewhere cool, their job is to reach out to other people. Ask them to join you, or help them get to a place that is reasonably cool.”

(MORE: Potentially Historic Heat Wave Likely to Bring Dangerous, Record-Breaking Temperatures)

Another Multnomah County health department official warned that overnight temperatures will remain abnormally hot, which increases the risk of heat-related illnesses.

“The research we have shows it’s those nighttime lows that are really important to health,” Brendon Haggerty, interim supervisor for the Health Department’s Healthy Homes and Communities, said in a statement. “People rely on those temperatures to recover and to cool down their homes. But nights are not going to provide the relief we might normally get.”

“This is a true public health emergency,” Dan Douthit, public information officer for Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Management, told weather.com.

Libraries and other public facilities are extending their hours to offer people a place to get out of the heat, Douthit said.

Like other cities, Portland has been reopening many such facilities after they were shuttered because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Douthit said the priority now is to get people into cooling centers, especially people who do not have homes.

Vines, in her statement, also said precautions taken for the pandemic are less important during this emergency.

“COVID precautions are important for people who aren’t fully vaccinated, but right now those precautions are secondary,” she said. “In the same way we said during the September wildfires to get people inside, we’re saying now, ‘Get someplace cool.’”

In neighboring Clark County, Washington, however, COVID restrictions continue to reduce the number of cooling centers.

“A lot of our locations that we normally use for cooling centers aren’t available,” Eric Frank, public information officer with the Clark Regional Emergency Services agency, told KGW. “We’re trying to get creative and figure out new options and what we can do.”

“We’re really looking at our faith-based organizations and businesses that are willing to step up and open their doors and help us out during these record hot days,” Frank said.

Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan said COVID restrictions have reduced the number of shelters in that city, also.

“This upcoming week, we’re reopening many city facilities for individuals to stay cool, but many of our city’s indoor spaces remain closed or at reduced capacity due to state and local public health mandates,” Durkan said in a statement Monday. “As a reminder, drink plenty of water, reduce strenuous outdoor activities, check on neighbors and those at risk for heat-related illness, and don’t leave any pets in the car.”

Seattle’s Central Library and several neighborhood branches have reopened this week during peak hours, but they remain at a reduced 50% building capacity, the city’s statement said.

The city’s outdoor pools, wade pools and spray parks have also started to reopen this week. Lifeguarded beaches will reopen on Saturday.

Spokane, Washington, also plans to open a cooling center, Brian Coddington, a spokesman for the city, told weather.com.

“We’ve warned people to plan ahead and be prepared,” Coddington said. “Think about traditional alternatives to being in a hot house, such as going to visit the malls, which are reopened at a reduced capacity.”

He also mentioned local businesses and movie theaters as places to find air conditioning, and the city’s pools and splash pads have reopened after being closed because of COVID.

(WATCH: How to Know If It’s Heatstroke)

Electric utility officials have said they don’t expect problems meeting increased power demands because of the heat wave.

“There should be enough power. We have no indications that that’s an issue for us. Of course we’re monitoring closely and at this point do not see any issues in continuing to serve power to our customers,” Andrea Platt, spokesperson for Portland General Electric, told KGW.

Pacific Power spokesman Drew Hanson said, “So heat waves are something that Pacific Power prepares for every year – so it’s not new to us. We’re ready for this but we aren’t anticipating any power supply interruptions due to the heat,” he said.

Puget Sound Energy, Washington’s largest utility, is encouraging customers to be more energy conscious during the heat wave.

“Across its service area, PSE’s electric infrastructure is currently performing well, and energy usage is being monitored closely,” the utility said in a statement sent to weather.com.

Air conditioners, many of them new, will be putting a strain on those electric grids.

“On Monday, there were four hour waits to get into our store,” Norman Chusid, owner of Portland’s 115-year-old Ankeny Hardware, told weather.com in a phone interview Thursday. “All the big box stores in the area and all the hardware stores and variety stores were sending everybody here” because Ankeny was the only place with air conditioners and portable air conditioners.

He said the first three days of this week, the store — which his family has owned for 74 years — sold about 250 portable air conditioning units and 200 window units.

“We’re known in Portland as having a ridiculous amount of inventory,” Chusid said, adding that people were coming to the store from 20 to 40 miles away.

“Monday, we did a month’s worth of business, an entire month’s worth of business on Monday. Tuesday, we did about a month’s worth of business. Yesterday, we did probably about two and half to three week’s worth of business. Today it’s probably not going to do that because we’re running out of stuff to sell,” he said.

Chusid said he’s taking orders now for about 50 portable units expected in three upcoming shipments. They won’t be there in time for this heat wave, but they’ll be useful the rest of the summer.

“Portland’s very unique, and I’ve lived here all my life,” Chusid said. “When it snows, they wait till there’s six inches of snow to go buy tire chains. Nobody seems to like to be prepared ahead of time. … It’s kind of the nature of people, especially in Portland, to say gee, an air conditioner is $200 to $300 and I don’t want to spend if it I don’t need it. So I’ll just wait till I need it. Well, when you need it, so does everyone else and it turns into a giant storm of people needing stuff.”

(WATCH: Climate Change Making Yellowstone Warmer, Less Snowy)

At McLendon Hardware in Renton, Washington, just south of Seattle, manager Bobby Knick said the store is running out of air conditioners.

“The hard to get are the air conditioners of course, the portable air conditioners they’re really hard to get. I don’t think there is probably a retailer out there that has any right now. Especially after yesterday, we sold our last one yesterday,” Knick told KING.

It’s not surprising that folks are rushing to get air conditioners.

Fewer than half the housing units in the Seattle metropolitan area, 44%, have air conditioning, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey. About 79% of Portland’s houses have air conditioning.

Knick offered this advise for people who don’t have air conditioners.

“If you can get a fan in the highest elevation of your house and blow out and get the (windows) downstairs open, especially for night time sleeping, it will create a cross draft and get that heat out and bring the cool air from the night into the house to cool it down fast,” he said.

Northwest residents who already have air conditioners are keeping repair technicians busy.

Sam Murzea of MP Heating & Air Conditioning told KGW he’s getting more than 200 calls for service a day.

“This has been the busiest start to a summer season I think any of us in the HVAC industry or most construction or trades have experienced,” said Murzea, who’s booking appointments for one to two weeks from now.

He cautioned that even air conditioning units in perfect working order might not get a home as cool as the owner expects. Units designed for the climate in the Northwest are made to operate in temperatures of 85 to 95 degrees.

“In those 100-degree-plus temperatures, you’ll notice your system will likely not get to that 72, 68 number you’re used to having, so you’ll have to be more patient and understand they don’t work that way,” Murzea said.

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