A dangerous heat wave that has shattered weather records in Western Canada, including for the hottest temperature recorded in the country, is prompting health warnings, pushing schools to close, and increasing the risk of floods and wildfires.
In Lytton, a village about a three-hour drive northeast of Vancouver, the temperature hit 47.9 C on Monday – the hottest on record in Canada. Lytton also set the same record a day earlier, when it was 46.6.
Lytton resident Meghan Fandrich said it has been “almost impossible” to go outside. Without air conditioning at home, she said she is afraid to even open the front door and let any bit of heat in, and has sent her five-year-old daughter to stay with family in Mission, B.C., where temperatures are marginally cooler.
“It has been intolerable,” said Ms. Fandrich, taking refuge in the air-conditioned coffee shop that she owns and operates. “We’re trying to stay indoors as much as possible. I mean, we are used to the heat, and it is a dry heat, but 30 is a lot different from 47.”
Environment Canada issued heat warnings for B.C. and Alberta, as well as large parts of Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and a section of Yukon. The same weather system was wreaking havoc in the northwestern United States, where the heat prompted schools and businesses to close, paralyzed the light-rail and street car system in Portland, and sent dozens of people to emergency rooms.
“This is historic and widespread – it’s shattering records everywhere,” said Alysa Pederson, a meteorologist with Environment Canada. “There’s a lot of people who like summer weather and a lot of people who like heat. But heat of this magnitude is more scary than it is something to look forward to.”
School boards in Vancouver and across B.C.’s Lower Mainland cancelled in-person classes, as did Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., as temperatures in some areas exceeded 40 – almost unheard of in the normally mild coastal region. Search-and-rescue crews warned hikers to stay at home.
Between Friday and Monday morning, B.C. paramedics responded to 187 calls for heat exhaustion and 52 calls for heatstroke. Of those, 107 heat exhaustion calls and 32 heatstroke calls were on Sunday alone.
Paramedics have responded to 304 heat-related calls in June, compared with 14 in all of June, 2020, according to BC Emergency Health Services spokeswoman Sarah Morris.
In Alberta, the demand on the province’s electricity grid set records as air conditioners struggled under the heat wave. The province broke 14 temperature records on Sunday and three more by mid-afternoon on Monday, including 37.3 in the Jasper area, with the worst not expected until later in the week.
Ms. Pederson said she expects climatologists to intensely study how the system developed and how climate change may have been a factor.
She said a dome of high pressure is in a “blocking pattern” that has caused temperatures to rise and linger far longer than a typical heat wave. Temperatures in B.C. were expected to cool in the next several days and ease on the Prairies by the end of the week.
The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District in B.C. issued an evacuation alert for parts of the Pemberton Valley on Sunday in response to rapidly rising river levels, brought on by high temperatures and consequent snowmelt. This means residents could be required on short notice to leave their properties.
The B.C. River Forecast Centre has issued a number of flood watch notices in response to accelerated snowmelt rates from extreme temperatures. They include: Upper Columbia, including the Columbia River and tributaries; the Chilcotin; the Upper Fraser River; and the Lillooet River and its tributaries.
Natural Resources Canada warned of “extreme” wildfire risk in the West.
“Temperatures are in uncharted territory,” said Yan Boulanger, a forest ecologist with the department. “Those indices for forest fire are very, very high right now.”
While 19 fires have sprung up in B.C. over the past two days, most remain under five hectares in size. There were 15 wildfires burning in Alberta as of Monday morning, but all were listed as under control or being held.
Alberta set a record for summertime electricity demand on Monday. Leif Sollid, spokesman for the Alberta Electric System Operator, said the power grid was coping but the agency was asking people reduce power consumption. Enmax, the electric utility owned by the City of Calgary, said it set a historic record.
There were 37 heat-related 911 calls in Calgary since Friday. In Edmonton, 29 people called 911 because of the heat since June 20.
The combination of high temperatures and a lack of rain was fuelling concerns in the agricultural industry about the potential impact if the extreme weather persisted.
Jack Bates, past chair of the B.C. Blueberry Council and a grower at Tecarte Farms in Delta in the Lower Mainland, said most crops are experiencing some stress but he is hopeful that the most extreme temperatures will pass in a few days.
“In the valley we’ve got many different microclimates, so there are no right or wrong answers,” he said. “The early varieties, the ones that are starting to turn now, are probably going to be impacted. When they get ripe they cook on the bush.
“But personally, our own blueberries, it’s a little bit cooler here and they look fine. If we were three weeks from now, right in the heart of the season, it would be very serious. But we might come out of this with minimal issues.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version said the temperature in Lytton, B.C. hit 47.5 C on Monday. Environment Canada says the temperature in Lytton in fact reached 47.9 C.
With reports from The Canadian Press and Associated Press
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