More than a hundred deaths in British Columbia have been linked to a heat wave that has roasted parts of western Canada, broken previous national heat records three days in a row and sent thousands scrambling for relief.
Lisa Lapointe, British Columbia’s chief coroner, said 233 deaths have been reported over four days, between Friday and Monday afternoon, while typically about 130 deaths would be reported in the same time frame. Deaths were expected to increase, she said.
“͞Since the onset of the heat wave late last week, the BC Coroners Service has experienced a significant increase in deaths reported where it is suspected that extreme heat has been contributory,” she said in a statement this week.
Climatologists say the intensity and duration of the heat wave could be attributed to rising global temperatures. John Horgan, the premier of British Columbia, on Tuesday said the heat wave underlined the perils of climate change.
“The big lesson coming out of the past number of days is that the climate crisis is not a fiction,” he said at a news conference. “It is absolutely real.”
The heat wave has presented an additional public health concern even as Canadian authorities are still grappling with the challenge of the coronavirus and Canadians are just beginning to enjoy some of the pleasures of summer as restrictions ease.
On Tuesday, for the third day in a row, British Columbia shattered its previous extreme heat record; the temperature in Lytton, a small town in the province, climbed to just over 121 degrees Fahrenheit.
Such is the heat that some Vancouverites have fried eggs on their terraces. Others have traded in their sweltering homes for air-conditioned hotels or moved their home offices to shady places in their gardens.
Capturing the national mood, Lyle Torgerson posted a video on Twitter Sunday showing a bear and two cubs taking a dip in his backyard pool in Coquitlam, British Columbia. “The heat is unbearable, but if you take a quick dip you’ll survive,” he told The New York Times in a message on Instagram.
The Vancouver Police Department has dispatched dozens of additional officers to help deal with the situation, it said in a statement. While police usually attend to three to four sudden deaths a day, on average, the department said it has responded to more than 65 such calls since Friday, with 20 of those on Tuesday.
As suffocating heat hits much of Western North America, experts are concerned about human safety and power failures.
- Western Canada: Canada broke a national heat record on June 27, when the temperature in a small town in British Columbia reached almost 116 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking an 84-year-old record by nearly 3 degrees, with dangerously hot weather expected to continue for several more days.
- Pacific Northwest U.S.: A heat dome has enveloped the region driving temperatures to extreme levels — with temperatures well above 100 degrees — and creating dangerous conditions in a part of the country unaccustomed to oppressive summer weather or air-conditioning.
- Severe Drought: Much of the Western half of the United States is in the grip of a severe drought of historic proportions. Conditions are especially bad in California and the Southwest, but the drought extends into the Pacific Northwest, much of the Intermountain West, and even the Northern Plains. The extreme heat is exacerbating the dry conditions.
- Growing Energy Shortages: Power failures have increased by more than 60 percent since 2015, even as climate change has made heat waves worse, according to new research published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
- Baseline Temperatures Are Rising: New baseline data for temperature, rain, snow and other weather events reveal how the climate has changed in the United States. One key takeaway, the country is getting hotter.
“We’ve never seen anything like this, and it breaks our hearts,” said Sergeant Steve Addison in a statement, noting that the extreme heat appears to be a contributing factor to most of the cases.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Surrey, a municipality in metropolitan Vancouver, said in an email that it had responded to 35 sudden deaths in a 24-hour period.
The wildfire service of British Columbia was also coping with effects of the heat wave, grappling with overheated helicopter engines as it tried to contain severe wildfires. One had spread over about 5700 acres as of Tuesday night, at Sparks Lake, about five hours northeast of Vancouver.
Before this week’s record-breaking heat, the last time Canada saw the mercury rise to similar heights was on July 5, 1937, when the temperature hit 113 degrees Fahrenheit in rural Saskatchewan.
Even so, the B.C. Wildfire Service was grappling with overheated helicopter engines as it tried to contain severe wildfires, including one that spread over 2,300 hectares as of Tuesday night, at Sparks Lake, about five hours northeast of Vancouver.