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Record-setting heat wave cooks the coast Add to ...

Extreme weather on British Columbia's West Coast tends to revolve around record rain or windstorms that topple ancient trees.

These days, the once "Wet Coast" is sizzling hot. Records are toppling up and down the coast and into the Interior.

In Vancouver, where the definition of a hot summer day is 24 degrees, the temperature topped out Wednesday afternoon at 33.8 degrees, which was the hottest day in the city's history, at least until yesterday.

"That was the highest temperature ever recorded at the Vancouver airport, and we might break that today, because it's already 33.2 degrees, which is amazing," David Jones, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said early yesterday.

Mr. Jones was prescient. By late afternoon, another single-day record had been shattered, this time by a new high of 34.4 degrees. It was the first time all-time temperature records have been set on consecutive days in the sweltering city.

In many ways, the scorching days and nights are harder on Vancouverites, where heat waves are as rare as mosquitoes. Few have air conditioning, so people have been flocking to malls and movie theatres. Apartment buildings - especially high rises - have become ovens. Health officials have urged people to check on elderly neighbours and relatives.

The heat prompted the region's transit authority to put more air-conditioned rail cars on SkyTrain. TransLink spokesman Drew Snider urged commuters to stay hydrated and "to wash" in consideration of other passengers.

Soaring temperatures have driven thousands of people to seek relief at beaches and swimming pools. On Wednesday evening, the lineup to get into the pool at Kitsilano Beach snaked up the stairs and nearly onto the beach itself.

"It's a little hotter than I'd like," said Gerald Lawson, 66, who settled on a shady city bench with a chess board yesterday morning. Mr. Lawson said his apartment was too hot for him to stay there and he planned to spend the day outdoors playing chess in the shade.

Weather experts say the heat wave of 2009 is due to a change in wind patterns. Intensely hot summer days are the norm in the interior of the province, but Mr. Jones said the coast stays cooler because of northwest winds that blow from the ocean.

"A northwest wind is a nice cool breeze, especially in Vancouver. It blows right down the [Georgia]Strait and we get refreshed," Mr. Jones said.

This year, the winds on the coast have shifted direction and are blowing out to sea.

"As forecasters we care about two things: Is the wind blowing onshore or offshore? And if you answer that question, you can tell a lot about the weather. If the wind blows offshore for a prolonged period of time, a heat wave sets in."

But Mr. Jones said the winds will soon change direction, and a break in the hot weather is forecast for the weekend.

In suburban New Westminster, the heat wreaked havoc with Norm Scott's attempt to build a curling rink.

Mr. Scott, who maintains the ice at Royal City Curling Club, was readying the rink for curling events scheduled this weekend for the World Police and Fire Games, which attracts firefighters and police officers from around the globe. But the ice kept melting.

"We're having problems with the air temperature in there," Mr. Scott said yesterday. "We thought we could get away with it, but we got caught in this heat wave. There's not much I can do right now."

Mr. Scott said he'll keep trying to cool the building's interior enough to make ice, but if it's scorching hot all weekend, he's not sure what will happen. "This is uncharted territory."

Some people in Vancouver, however, were revelling in the heat. Thomas Frauenberger took his 22-month-old daughter, Jada, to Kitsilano Beach. At home, the youngster likes to sit in a bucket of cold water on the apartment balcony, Mr. Frauenberger said. With the bucket and four fans installed in the apartment, the family has managed to stay cool.

Some out-of-towners didn't find the heat the least bit oppressive. A group of firefighters who were visiting from New York for the Games scoffed at complaints. "We're used to this in New York," Mark Aiken said.

Besides: "We're firefighters. We're used to the heat."

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