Heat Closes the Oregon DMV in Mall 205

“The office has been running about 10 degrees hotter than the outside temperature.”

web_stark6 A police cruiser near Mall 205 in Southeast Portland. (Sam Gehrke)

Portland endured a fifth consecutive day of blistering temperatures Tuesday, and few places were as hot as the city’s easternmost neighborhoods, where deserts of concrete bake in the sunshine and release the heat after sunset—an effect known as “heat islands.”

That makes Mall 205 off Southeast Washington Street one of the hottest places in the city. On Tuesday, as temperatures in East Portland reached 103 degrees, the heat was enough to close a government office.

Specifically, the Mall 205 outpost of Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services. It shut down for the day around 1 pm. Chris Crabb, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation, said the office was simply too hot.

Little wonder. Earlier in the week, a local resident wrote to state Rep. Tawna Sanchez (D-North and Northeast Portland), complaining about the temperatures in the DMV and a mall restroom. Sanchez’s office forwarded a response from an ODOT official.

“DMV will continue working with [the Department of Administrative Services] to address the state of the restroom, though we also want to inform you that the office struggles with a lack of suitable air conditioning,” the transportation official wrote. “The office has been running about 10 degrees hotter than the outside temperature.”

By midday Tuesday, the heat was just too much. Portlanders rolling up to the building found big red signs reading, “DMV CLOSED DUE TO FACILITY ISSUES.” A customer who was inside the lobby when it closed told WW: “People were sweating in there.”

Crabb told WW that the underlying problem is an insufficient HVAC system. The DMV doesn’t have a threshold temperature that forces closure. “It’s just about the comfort of customers and staff,” Crabb said.

Crabb added that she expected the office would reopen Wednesday morning, as temperatures returned to something more like normal. People with appointments were supposed to receive text messages letting them know of the closure, she said. But customers were still showing up, often with identification and other documents in hand.

One man left the DMV to grab an additional document and returned to find it closed. “I guess I’ll just be without a license,” he said.

The DMV’s closure was a small signal of how the extended heat wave—four days near or above 100 degrees—strained Portland’s infrastructure. It broke daily records, and took the lives of five people in Multnomah County.

“We’re forecasting a little bit of a cooldown,” says National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Bishop, thanks to low-pressure air swinging in from Western Canada.

Still, as of press time, the heat hadn’t let up. “Dangerous and oppressive heat persists today across much of SW Washington and NW Oregon,” NWS noted in its forecast.

Ultimately, this won’t be the longest streak of above-100-degree days—that was a five-day period in 1941. But it comes only a few years after the heat dome of 2021 killed 72 people.

“There does appear to be some sort of significant pattern change,” Bishop says.

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