Potentially historic heat covers Western Canada, poses serious health risks

·11 min read
Potentially historic heat covers Western Canada, poses serious health risks
Potentially historic heat covers Western Canada, poses serious health risks

Heat warnings blanket much of Western Canada, including British Columbia and Alberta, as an intense weather phenomenon more common to the U.S. southwest – an actual desert – engulfs the region. By the time it subsides days from now, many communities may have marked their hottest days on record, straining power grids, elevating fire danger, and posing a real threat to public health.

Colloquially known as a 'heat dome,' the West currently sits beneath an area of abnormally intense high-pressure, beneath which descending air compresses into layers near the surface, warming drastically as it does so.

Then you get a feedback effect. The warm air gets trapped in the lower elevations, and temperatures can only fall into the 20s at night. The following days can be incrementally toastier.

BC 1
BC 1

The one upside for sun-lovers is that such features tend to be marked by clear skies, inhibiting the kind of vertical motion that produces clouds. It also keeps out low-pressure systems that can bring rain and thunderstorms. But the downside is that the dry conditions coincide with periods of drought conditions.

But the most overwhelming impact from this feature will be the extreme heat, not only for its intensity but its location. British Columbia is not the desert southwest, adapted to arid weather, and in fact, 60 per cent of British Columbians do not own an air conditioner in their households.

BC Heat Records
BC Heat Records

It's all shaping up to be several days of dangerously hot temperatures for Western Canada, with B.C. bearing the brunt of it.

RELATED: Open burning to be banned across B.C. as heat wave hits

“Weather history is expected early next week – Canada’s all-time hottest temperature record could be broken,” says Dr. Doug Gillham, a senior meteorologist at The Weather Network. “A historic heat wave for B.C. and Alberta will start this weekend and will peak early to mid-next week. All-time high temperature records will be broken at numerous locations. Interior valleys of southern B.C. will have to endure several days with temperatures reaching the low- to mid-40s with the potential to break the all-time Canadian record of 45°C. A string of 30+ degree temperatures, with humidex into the 40s, is likely even for Vancouver and many other coastal communities where the majority do not have air-conditioning. Widespread mid- and upper 30s are likely for Alberta including Calgary and Edmonton, and many places should reach 40°C. 30+°C temperatures [are expected] into the N.W.T., as well."

Gillham adds that this dangerous heat will put a severe strain on power grids and creates an "extremely dangerous wildfire situation as we head into the busy camping season."

Daily temperature records were broken Friday across southern B.C. and parts of Alberta.

TempRecordsFri
TempRecordsFri

WATCH BELOW: VANCOUVER ISLAND: ALL-TIME TEMPERATURES SET TO SWEEP ACROSS THE ISLAND

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SATURDAY

Temperatures already reached the mid-30s for parts of Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland -- breaking records in several locations Friday, and in Alberta, as well. The heat dome will be locked in on the South Coast and southern B.C. Saturday.

Core temperatures push into the mid-30s across inland sections of the South Coast, with even the occasional upper-30 reading in Port Alberni, Abbotsford, and throughout the southern Interior. A maximum of 40°C is not completely out of reach in some areas.

Some of Alberta will see daytime highs creep over the 30-degree mark, but in all, they'll be largely in the upper 20s, though feeling a touch hotter with the humidity.

BCABSat
BCABSat

SUNDAY - WEDNESDAY:

Potentially the warmest days in history for some cities in B.C.

Record-maximum overnight lows, record daytime highs, record humidex values – it's all converging towards an extreme weather event. By the end of the weekend, the high-pressure ridge has surged so far north that some locations in the Northwest Territories have the chance to reach the upper 30s for daytime highs near the Alberta border.

Temperatures in the Interior can soar well into the low 40s for daytime highs. The warmest temperature recorded in June will probably fall – a whopping 42°C in Hedley during a 2015 heat wave in the province.

BCABMonday
BCABMonday
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Alberta won't reach such extreme levels as British Columbia, but daytime highs in the mid-to-upper 30s will still be widespread – deeply uncomfortable even with such low humidity. This could also make way for some all-time temperature records to fall.

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Back in B.C., a thermal trough – a thin, weak area of low pressure – tends to develop along the coast during these heat events, enhancing the offshore flow and allowing the air to further warm as it snakes down from the coastal mountains.

“Climate change has altered our atmosphere, and I’m forecasting all-time temperatures on Vancouver Island - similar to levels seen in Dubai or Phoenix, Arizona,” says Tyler Hamilton, another meteorologist at The Weather Network. “It’s possible overnight lows will remain at 24°C or 25°C for some.”

WATCH BELOW: HOW BC HYDRO AND THE CITY OF VANCOUVER ARE PREPARING FOR THE HEAT WAVE

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Sunday morning and Monday morning will be warmer than the average daytime high for the end of June - bottoming out as high as 23°C, or even 24°C for some.

For some relief, head down to the Pacific Ocean, but it remains to be seen if the daytime sea-breeze will push very far inland, at all. Your best bet is to be directly in the ocean, or somehow find your way to Prince Rupert.

BCABHumidexMon
BCABHumidexMon

It's likely that the dangerous heat wave will continue into at least mid-week. The heat will also spread into Saskatchewan, with daytime temperatures pushing the mid-to-upper 30s by Tuesday.

HEALTH IMPACTS

The extreme heat should be taken seriously as it could harm your health and cause heat related-illnesses.

“Heat-related illness is the result of your body gaining heat faster than it can cool itself down,” states HealthLink BC on their website. “Those at increased risk for heat-related illness include: infants and children, people 65 years of age or older, and people who do a lot of physical activity or work in a hot environment. In most cases, heat-related illnesses are preventable.”

Heat stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency. Call 9-1-1 or other emergency medical services as soon as you suspect or see the signs of heat stroke in an individual. Click here to learn more about heat stroke.

Heat stroke shares some symptoms with heat exhaustion, but the most acute to watch out for (according to Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety) are:

  • Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating

  • Confusion

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Seizures

  • Very high body temperature

Heat stroke can follow on from untreated heat exhaustion, or can happen without little or no warning. To learn more about how extreme heat can impact the human body, click here.

Extreme heat safety tips
Extreme heat safety tips

HUMID VS. DRY HEAT: WHY THE DIFFERENCE MATTERS

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RELATED: Climate change boosted heat deaths by more than a third

HUMAN-CAUSED FIRES A BIG CONCERN

The heat also ignites fears of human-caused wildfires. The B.C. Wildfire Service says nothing larger than a campfire will be allowed as of noon Friday across the province as scorching temperatures are expected to ramp up going into the weekend.

Residents are urged to exercise caution when outdoors. There are numerous ways human activity can start wildfires, some of which include open burning, the use of engines or vehicles, dropping burning substances such as cigarettes or the use of fireworks. The most important factor of person-caused fires is that they are preventable.

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Residents are also reminded to check with local authorities before lighting a fire of any size.

FireDangerRating
FireDangerRating

ADDITIONAL SAFETY MEASURES IN VANCOUVER

The City of Vancouver has implemented additional measures to protect residents facing compounded challenges of COVID-19 and the heat. Some of which include:

  • Community centres in the Downtown Eastside will offer water to patrons requesting it or in need of hydration, as well as supporting patrons with sun block. If you are out and about, you can fill up your water bottle at one of over 200 drinking fountains.

  • The City’s Non-Market Housing Operations is implementing a hot weather support plan for tenants, which includes increased wellness checks, and provision of bottled water and table-top fans for those residents not able or wanting to leave their rooms. Additionally, air-conditioned common area spaces will be available for residents to seek respite from the heat. Residents can find a list of the City’s 10 air-conditioned community centres and all library locations have air-conditioning at vancouver.ca/hot-weather.

  • Sharing heat safety messaging with operators of many of Vancouver’s SROs and requesting that they check on residents who are vulnerable to heat.

  • Emergency service personnel and volunteers will be vigilant for people who may be suffering from or are at risk of heat exposure.

The city will be providing additional information via Vancouver.ca to ensure people are aware of heat warnings and can access the information they need.

Be sure to check back as we continue to monitor this potentially life-threatening heat wave.

With files from Tyler Hamilton.

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