Environment Canada says extreme heat continuing in Ontario and Quebec

MONTREAL — An oppressive heat wave continued to blanket central and southern Ontario, southern Quebec and much of the Maritimes on Wednesday, with daytime highs hitting 30 C to 35 C — above 40 C with the humidex — and officials warning about the dangers of such extreme temperatures.

The hot weather was expected to continue into Friday, says Environment Canada, with overnight temperatures staying above 20 C.

Jennifer Smith, a national warning preparedness meteorologist with the federal department, said a heat wave this intense “has rarely been observed this early in June,” and rivals some of the worst July and August heat waves Eastern Canada has seen in recent years.

The high humidity and relatively high nighttime temperatures are making this week’s weather especially gruelling, Smith said Wednesday during a federal government news conference. “People are not able to cool off for an extended period of time,” she said. “It will be a muggy, hot few days for Eastern Canada.”

She said the heat wave has already broken some temperature records and more could fall. Scientists with Environment Canada will do a rapid analysis of the heat wave once it’s over to figure out how much it was influenced by human-caused climate change. The results, part of the agency’s new rapid attribution project, are expected by the end of next week.

Toronto and Ottawa have both extended hours at certain outdoor pools until Thursday. In Montreal, air-conditioned public buildings, including libraries and cultural centres, are also open longer than usual.

On Wednesday afternoon, volunteers from Toronto non-profit Project FoodChain delivered water to people experiencing homelessness in the city's west end. The group says it plans to deliver 230,000 bottles of water across Toronto and neighbouring Peel region.

Project FoodChain spokesperson Kate Hanley said that with episodes of extreme heat growing more common, providing drinking water to unhoused people has become "an emergency health intervention."

"If you can’t get inside, and you’ve got some water, you’ve got a way better chance of survival,” she said.

Early-season heat waves can be more dangerous because people are not as acclimatized as they may be later in the summer, said Peter Berry, a Health Canada senior policy analyst and science adviser. “When something happens like this, that’s so quick and so intense, it can be a problem for that reason,” he said during the federal news conference.

Quebec's Health Department is recommending people spend at least two hours a day in an air-conditioned space, take at least one cool shower or bath per day, and limit physical activity. Environment Canada is also reminding people to check on loved ones, especially those who are disabled, mentally ill or living alone.

The heat wave stretched to parts of Quebec that have rarely seen such high temperatures this time of year, including Rimouski in the province’s Bas-St-Laurent region, where the average daily June high is 21 C. The town of roughly 50,000 people was expected to reach 32 C on Wednesday.

Spokesperson Frédéric Savard said the town's outdoor pools will open earlier than usual this year, but still not before this weekend. “This heat is exceptional for Rimouski,” he said. “These are temperatures that we usually see in July or August.”

Meanwhile, a new study from Quebec's national research centre analyzing data available up to 2019 estimates that high temperatures in Quebec are associated with an average of 470 deaths and 225 hospitalizations each summer. "I think that this really provides a solid argument to say that we need to put measures in place to reduce this burden, which is going to be greater and greater," said the study's main author, Jérémie Boudreault, with Institut national de la recherche scientifique.

Also on Wednesday, Quebec's order of chemists expressed its dismay over a new trend of social media influencers claiming sunscreen ingredients are harmful to the skin. It said such "scientifically unfounded" claims could endanger public health.

Michel Alsayegh, president of the order of chemists, says sunscreens are designed to protect the skin from the harmful effects of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays and that scientific research demonstrates the efficacy and safety of these products when used properly.

“It is worrying to see pseudo-experts inciting the population to forego sun protection, thereby increasing the risk of skin cancer and other damage caused by UV rays," he said.

In New Brunswick, which was under a heat warning with temperatures forecast to hit 30 to 35 C, Laura-Maia Wright of Fredericton spent the morning kayaking by Angelview Park.

"I was wondering why more people weren't out in the water," she said. "It was so good. Because it makes you feel cooler, because you're by the water, but it is more reflective with the sun so you can burn easier."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2024.

— With files from Jordan Omstead and Sheila Reid in Toronto, Jean-Benoit Legault in Montreal and Hina Alam in Fredericton.

Maura Forrest, The Canadian Press