“Record-shattering” heatwaves, even worse than the one that recently hit north-west America, are set to become much more likely in future, according to research. The study is a stark new warning on the rapidly escalating risks the climate emergency poses to lives.
The shocking temperature extremes suffered in the Pacific north-west and in Australia 2019-2020 were “exactly what we are talking about”, said the scientists. But they said the world had yet to see anything close to the worst impacts possible, even under the global heating that had already happened.
The research found that highly populated regions in North America, Europe and China were where the record-shattering extremes are most likely to occur. One illustrative heatwave produced by the computer models used in the study showed some locations in mid-northern America having temperatures 18C higher than average.
Preparing for such unprecedented extremes was vital, said the scientists, because they could cause thousands of premature deaths, and measures taken to adapt to date had often been based only on previous heat records.
Scientists already know that heatwaves of the kind mostly seen today will become more common as the climate crisis unfolds. But heatwaves are usually analysed by comparing them with the past, which means the vast majority are only marginally hotter than before. This can give a false sense of a gradual rise in record temperatures.
The new computing modelling studyinstead looked for the first time at the highest margins by which week-long heatwave records could be broken in future.
It found that heatwaves that smash previous records by roughly 5C would become two to seven times more likely in the next three decades and three to 21 times more likely from 2051–2080, unless carbon emissions are immediately slashed. Such extreme heatwaves are all but impossible without global heating.
The vulnerability of North America, Europe and China was striking, said Erich Fischer, at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, who led the research. “Here we see the largest jumps in record-shattering events. This is really quite worrying,” he added.
“Many places have by far not seen anything close to what’s possible, even in present-day conditions, because only looking at the past record is really dangerous.”
The study also showed that record-shattering events could come in sharp bursts, rather than gradually becoming more frequent.“That is really concerning,” Fischer said: “Planning for heatwaves that get 0.1C more intense every two or three years would still be very worrying, but it would be much easier to prepare for.”https://fcb87b99d89282b39dd82a2f620cfb45.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Prof Michael Mann, at Pennsylvania State University in the US and not part of the new research, said: “This study underscores something that has been apparent in the record weather extremes we’ve seen this summer: dangerous climate change is here, and it’s now simply a matter of how dangerous we are willing to let it get.” Mann’s own research published in May showed a possible doubling of heat stress in the US by 2100.
But he said: “If anything, this latest study, and our own, are underestimating the potential for deadly heat extremes in the future, in the absence of significant climate action.” That is because current climate models do not capture the slow-moving and very persistent nature of the extreme weather phenomena seen in the Pacific north-west heatwave and German floods recently.
It found the rate of global heating was critical in increasing the risk, rather than simply the global temperature reached. This indicates that sharp cuts in emissions are needed as soon as possible, rather than emissions continuing and being sucked back out of the atmosphere at a later date.Advertisementhttps://fcb87b99d89282b39dd82a2f620cfb45.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
The scientists used a scenario in which carbon emissions are not reduced, which some experts have argued is unrealistic, given that some climate action is being taken. However, global emissions are not yet falling, bar the blip caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and the researchers argue the scenario remains relevant until CO2 emissions are consistently falling.
The researchers said the rare record-shattering events in the past had huge impacts, such as the Russian heatwave of 2010, which killed 55,000 people and wiped out $15bn of crops, and the European heatwave of 2003, which led to 70,000 early deaths.
“With temperature records being smashed in North America and devastating floods in Europe and China just in the last month, it is clear climate change is affecting the planet,” said Vikki Thompson, at Bristol University in the UK. “The need to understand what could happen in the future is vital to allow us to adapt.”
“The good news is that we can prevent the worst case shown in this study,” she said. If emissions start falling immediately and rapidly, the study showed, the risk of record-shattering extremes is cut by about 80%. “With Cop26 looming, we must hope that policymakers use evidence like this to show the need for global emissions reductions,” Thompson said.
The summer of 2021 has been brutal in the western portions of North America, as oppressive heat has resulted in record high temperatures, extreme drought, raging wildfires and death.
Over the past month, record high temperatures have been reached at the airports in Las Vegas (117 degrees Fahrenheit) and Seattle-Tacoma (108), while it’s likely the record high for the state of Utah was also tied (117). Portland, Ore., broke its record high for three consecutive days in late June, eventually reaching 116 (the previous high, 107, was set in 1965). Canada had the same distinction, with the record climbing to 121, shattering the previous mark of 113 set in 1937.
As fighting climate change has emerged as a central issue in the negotiations on President Biden’s infrastructure bill, millions of Americans have struggled in recent weeks as unprecedented heat domes made worse by global warming have settled over the West. The historic heat wave, scientists agree, is linked to climate change, and comes one month after a draft report by the United Nations warned that “the worst is yet to come.” The present reality across much of the West, however, is proving to be its own challenge.
Here are a few aspects of the climate disaster from the last few weeks.
Hundreds of heat-related deaths
Hundreds of deaths have been attributed to the record-breaking temperatures that scorched Oregon, Washington and British Columbia the last week of June. These areas, where average temperatures are usually in the 70s this time of year, were left unprepared to face the heat, which proved fatal for many residents.
Officials in Oregon put the death toll at 116, with most occurring in Multnomah County, the state’s most populous county, where officials say many victims had no air conditioners or fans and died alone.
“It’s really a tragedy, and a lesson that heat does kill,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, the Multnomah County health officer, according to the New York Times. “In general — we’re still sifting through the numbers — these were people found in very hot settings, basically alone, and by and large older people.”
Washington state’s death toll from the heat wave has risen to 78, which is double the amount of heat-related deaths the state faced across a five-year period. From 2015 to 2020, Washington recorded a total of 39 deaths from heat.
British Columbia’s heat-related deaths proved even more staggering.
“The 719 deaths reported is three times more than what would normally occur in the province during the same period,” Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner of the British Columbia Coroners Service, said in a statement.
During the late-June heat wave, the spike in heat-related deaths in Vancouver, British Columbia, stretched the city’s resources thin.
“Vancouver Police are redeploying dozens of officers and are pleading for people to only call 9-1-1 during emergencies, as heat-related deaths have depleted front-line resources and severely delayed response times throughout the city,” the Vancouver Police Department tweeted on June 29.
Washington state similarly faced strains on its frontline resources. Four hospitals temporarily lost power, and operating rooms were closed because some hospitals could not guarantee safe temperatures. Dr. Steve Mitchell, the medical director of Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, told the New York Times that the demand on hospital staff and infrastructure could be parallel to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health officials say the death tolls may increase as more medical examiners and coroners determine the cause of a number of other deaths. In Washington state, preliminary heat-related death counts are updated by county every Monday online.
An earlier and more extreme start to wildfire season
Record-breaking temperatures and extreme drought are a recipe for wildfires, experts say, and this year has once again proven that to be the case.
“Currently, 59 large fires have burned 863,976 acres in 12 states,” the National Interagency Fire Center said in a message posted Monday to its website. “Fire managers prepare for another day of record temperatures in many western states.”
To date, 1,953,681 acres have been burned since Jan. 1 of this year. Over the same span one year ago, 1,662,497 acres had burned, the National Interagency Fire Center said.
California’s largest wildfire of the year is the Beckwourth Complex Fire, which has consumed 89,748 acres and destroyed about 20 homes. Beckwourth, which as of Monday was 23 percent contained, consists of the Dotta and Sugar fires and is burning near the Nevada state line.
“While wildfires are a natural part of California’s landscape, the fire season in California and across the West is starting earlier and ending later each year,” Cal Fire’s website states. “Climate change is considered a key driver of this trend. Warmer spring and summer temperatures, reduced snowpack, and earlier spring snowmelt create longer and more intense dry seasons that increase moisture stress on vegetation and make forests more susceptible to severe wildfire.”
Jacob Bendix, a Syracuse University professor, emphasized the role climate change plays in the wildfires.
“The exceptional fire weather this year and in recent years does not represent random bad luck,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “It is among the results of our adding carbon to the atmosphere — results that were predictable, and indeed that have been predicted for decades.”
Wildfires have also been burning across Washington, Idaho, Arizona and New Mexico, all states in the grip of a worsening drought.
“Farmworkers really are at the frontlines of climate change,” Leydy Rangel, communications manager of the United Farm Workers Foundation, told Yahoo News. “Unfortunately, that’s an issue that will not get better. We know that heat is the No. 1 cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S.”
On June 26, Guatemalan immigrant Sebastian Francisco Perez died while working amid the heat at Ernst Nursery and Farms in rural Oregon. Following his death, Gov. Kate Brown directed the state’s workplace safety agency to implement rules designed to protect workers from extreme heat, writing, “While Oregon OSHA has been working to adopt permanent rules related to heat, it became clear that immediate action was necessary in order to protect Oregonians, especially those whose work is critical to keeping Oregon functioning and oftentimes must continue during extreme weather.”
Last week the state of Washington announced new emergency protections for workers, set to go into effect Tuesday. According to the new policy, when the temperature is at or above 100 degrees, employers must provide shade or sufficient means for employees to cool down and paid cool-down rest periods of at least 10 minutes every two hours. Other rules are in effect for when the temperature hits 89.
“The heat experienced in our state this year has reached catastrophic levels. The physical risk to individuals is significant, in particular those whose occupations have them outdoors all day,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “Our state has rules in place to ensure these risks are mitigated, however, the real impacts of climate change have changed conditions since those rules were first written and we are responding.”
There is no federal legislation in place to protect farmworkers from intense heat, but the Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act, which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019 and in the Senate earlier this year, would take steps to address the issue.
“Workers in California and across the country are too often exposed to dangerous heat conditions in the workplace. In the past year, Californians have faced extreme heat temperatures from wildfires, while trying to navigate the unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic — risking the health and safety of our workers,” Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., said in a statement when the bill was introduced. “This vital legislation will hold employers accountable and ensure workplace protections are put in place to prevent further heat stress illness and deaths from happening.”
Mass death of wildlife
Over the weekend, researchers estimated that as many as 1 billion sea creatures may have died as a result of the combination of heat wave and drought.
Christopher Harley, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia studying dead mussels along the West Vancouver coastline, compared it to “one of those postapocalyptic movies.” While the mussels can survive water temperatures of just over 100 degrees, temps reached over 120 degrees in some areas, but Harley’s worry was that his dire estimates were coming in too low.
The deaths of the mussels, which died in the intense conditions, could have considerable ripple effects on everything from aquatic plant life to sea ducks. Biologists in the Pacific Northwest are also dealing with a strain on the fish population, with some organizations prepared to truck them to spawning grounds if temperatures remain too high and water levels too low for their traditional river migration. Other scientists agreed with Harley’s assessment of the potential dominoes to fall and disasters to be found as more data becomes available.
“The craziest thing is that it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Malin Pinsky, an associate professor of marine biology at Rutgers University, told NPR. “We can see the mussels because they’re on the shoreline, but to a large extent, oceans are out of sight, out of mind, so we’re likely to learn the magnitude of what’s happening only much later.”
“When we see mussel beds disappearing, they’re the main structuring species, so they’re almost like the trees in the forest that are providing a habitat for other species, so it’s really obvious when a mussel bed disappears,” Brian Helmuth, a marine biology professor at Northeastern University, told CNN. “When we start seeing die-offs of other smaller animals, because they’re moving around, because they’re not so dense, it’s not quite as obvious.”
With the high heat and lack of rain, many states across the West are also dealing with crippling drought. Last week California Gov. Gavin Newsom called on his state’s residents to reduce their water use by 15 percent, saying, “The realities of climate change are nowhere more apparent than in the increasingly frequent and severe drought challenges we face in the West and their devastating impacts on our communities, businesses and ecosystems.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that next month the federal government will likely declare the first-ever shortage at Lake Mead, which provides water to 25 million people as well as to vast swaths of farmland. That announcement would come with cuts to water usage in Arizona, Nevada and Mexico. The lake is the nation’s largest reservoir, spanning the border of Arizona and Nevada.
“According to Merriam-Webster, a drought is a temporary condition,” said Eric Kuhn, former general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. What is happening, he suggested, is something more long-lasting and disturbing. “This is aridification.”
The region’s agriculture industry is preparing for the worst, with Idaho farmer Cordell Kress telling Reuters, “The general mood among farmers in my area is as dire as I’ve ever seen it. Something about a drought like this just wears on you. You see your blood, sweat and tears just slowly wither away and die.” The Salt Lake Tribune reported that 85 to 90 percent of the water in Utah goes to agriculture, putting farmers there on edge.
The U.S. Drought Monitor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln laid the situation out in stark terms in its update this week, declaring, “Another week of hot, dry weather once again led to worsening drought conditions across the Northwest. Temperatures as high as 17 degrees above normal set more high temperature records across the region. The excess heat continued to increase evaporative demand, dry out soils and vegetation, and strain water resources.”
(CNN)California’s Death Valley is known to be a hot place, but it hit 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 degrees Celsius) Friday for only the fifth time in recorded history — that’s only five days out of more than 40,000 days on record.Interestingly, it could happen again Sunday, and perhaps even Monday as well.The record for the number of consecutive days at 125 degrees or higher is 10, set in 1913 (June 28-July 5). This year, Death Valley hit 126 on July 7 and will likely continue that stretch of days with 125-plus temperatures through Tuesday. This would be eight straight days, which would be the second-longest streak in recorded history (tying eight days in 2013).
Grand Junction, Colorado, set a new all-time temperature record of 107 on Friday.
Las Vegas tied its all-time temperature record of 117 degrees on Saturday. Fresno, California, could also near its all-time temperature record of 115 degrees on Sunday.Enter your email to subscribe to the CNN Five Things Newsletter.close dialog
Last month was the hottest June on record for the lower 48 statesBut none of these quite compares to the staggering 130 in Death Valley — 13 degrees above normal.”An anomalously strong high pressure system overhead will remain overhead for multiple days,” said Chelsea Peters, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Las Vegas. “When the overnight low is warmer than the previous day’s and similar temperature trends are expected, the daytime high would likely end up being just as hot, or hotter than the previous day.”But as hot at 130 may be, it is not the hottest temperature ever for Death Valley — which is 134 degrees, set in 1913. That is also considered the official world record, but it is a bit of a controversial one.
The controversy behind the record
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is the governing body that determines formal weather records across the globe, as well as weather nomenclatures (such as naming tropical systems).Prior to 2013, the highest recorded temperature in the world was actually 136.4 degrees Fahrenheit (58 degrees Celsius), set in 1923 in Al Azizia, Libya. However, the WMO later determined the Libya measurement was faulty and officially de-certified it as the official all-time highest global temperature, giving that designation instead to the Death Valley temperature on July 10, 1913.A park ranger takes a picture of an unofficial thermometer at Furnace Creek Visitor Center in California’s Death Valley National Park on August 17, 2020, a day after the temperature had reached 130 degrees.However, there is speculation the 1913 Death Valley record may also be invalid due to faulty placement of the instrumentation. All official weather sensors used by the National Weather Service are strategically placed to avoid interference from direct sunlight, wind, trees or moisture.The record of 134 in Death Valley came in the middle of an abnormally intense heat wave that stretched from July 7-14, 1913. Maximum temperatures for that time period were 127, 128, 129, 134, 129, 130, 131 and 127, respectively.The WMO even has this on its website: “Some weather historians have questioned the accuracy of old temperature records. The WMO Archive for Weather & Climate Extremes is always willing to investigate any past extreme record when new credible evidence is presented.”Regardless of whether you agree with keeping the 1913 data, it is hot there right now. Not just during the day, but also at night. And intense heat at both times of the day is critical for safety.
The West is caught in a vicious climate change feedback loopDuration is also important, as is the time of year that the heat is occurring.”For example, a heat event in April with high temperatures of 107°F will probably warrant an Excessive Heat Warning, whereas 107°F in July is just a couple of degrees above normal, so we would be unlikely to issue anything,” Varian said.
The same thing happens at the end of the summer season, in August and September, even though people may think they’d be acclimated by then.”Actually, coroner’s reports show that there are more heat-related deaths and illnesses at the end of the summer than any other part, because your body is exhausted from fighting extreme heat all summer,” Varian said.
CNN Meteorologist Haley Brink contributed to this report.
The village of Lytton, located in southern British Columbia, Canada, was the hottest spot in the entire country for three consecutive days. From Sunday, June 27, to Tuesday, June 29, Lytton broke the all-time Canadian high-temperature record, with each day hotter than the last. The heat peaked on Tuesday when the temperature reached 121 F (49.6 C)
If unprecedented heat wasn’t enough of a problem, almost a full week of extremely hot and dry conditions set the stage for another danger: wildfires.
A fire broke out late Wednesday afternoon, local time, in Lytton, and according to eyewitnesses, the village was engulfed in flames within a matter of minutes.
Two people, a couple in their 60s, were reported dead as a result of the fire, according to The Vancouver Sun. According to their son, the couple took shelter in a hole in the ground before they were killed.
While the official evacuation order was signed into effect at 6 p.m. PDT Wednesday by Mayor Jan Polderman, residents had already begun to flee.
“It’s dire. The whole town is on fire,” Polderman told CBC News.
Satellite imagery shows smoke from wildfires across southern British Columbia, Canada, triggering pyrocumulus clouds on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. (NOAA/CIRA)
Lytton is home to about 250 residents.
By Wednesday evening, additional communities north of Lytton were also ordered to evacuate as the blaze grew.
“The situation is very, very dire. There’s firefighters coming from across the province to assist with the growing fires in the region. The situation is still unfolding,” Vis told News 1130. The fire was reportedly more than 19,700 acres in size (about 8,000 hectares) as of early Thursday.
Anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 people in and around Lytton have been impacted by the fire, Vis told the news outlet.
The fire that engulfed Lytton was only one of more than 70 wildfires still burning across the entire province of British Columbia on Wednesday into Thursday. By Friday morning, the number of active wildfires in British Columbia had jumped to more than 110.
On Thursday night, homes were evacuated in the Kamloops, British Columbia, area due to another wildfire. Fortunately, the evacuation was rescinded as fire crews gained control of the fire. Residents were free to return to their homes.
The fires were caused by numerous lightning strikes in the Kamloops area earlier Thursday evening, according to the City of Kamloops.
“British Columbia Wildfire Service and Kamloops Fire Rescue will remain on site at the top and bottom of the fire,” reported the City of Kamloops. Residents could see “spot fires” throughout the rest of Thursday night.
Several roads were closed due to the fires, including large portions of highway 97. Dwayne McDonald, Commanding Officer of the British Columbia Royal Canadian Mounted Police, asked that residents “Please respect the closures,” as closed areas can be dangerous to enter.
This most recent stretch of hot, dry weather left places like Lytton and Kamloops primed for fire risk. The lack of moisture and abundance of dry fuels, like grass, created conditions under which it was very easy for wildfires to start and spread quickly.
This most recent heat wave was, and continues to be, one of the worst ever experienced by southwestern Canada and the northwestern United States. The heat wave was also quick to turn deadly for British Columbia, with several hundred deaths already reported.
Smoke rises from a wildfire at Long Loch and Derrickson Lake in Central Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, June 30, 2021 in this photo obtained from social media. (BC Wildfire Service via REUTERS)(BC Wildfire Service via REUTERS)
Lisa Lapointe, British Columbia’s chief coroner, said 486 reports of “sudden and unexpected” deaths came in between last Friday and this Wednesday, which is well ahead of the 165 deaths the province normally sees in five days, The Associated Press reported.
AccuWeather forecasters say that while the worst of the heat has already occurred, temperatures will still remain well above average through early next week.
The last image from the webcam at the Lytton Airport June 30, 2021, shows the approaching fire that later engulfed the town.Gov
“With high temperatures likely topping out in the 90s F (~32-34 C) through early next week, this will make for uncomfortable conditions for firefighters,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Randy Adkins said.
In terms of containment efforts through the end of the week, AccuWeather forecasters say there are at least two positive weather trends.
“Fortunately, winds are not expected to be all that strong, and relative humidity has come up some,” Adkins explained.
The lack of strong winds should give firefighting crews across southern British Columbia an advantage against ongoing blazes. Weaker winds will prevent rapid fire spread and may keep embers from blowing longer distances and starting new fires.
“Rain chances may increase some heading into the weekend, but any thunderstorms that do develop are likely to be isolated in nature, so it’s far from a guarantee that needed rain will arrive,” Adkins cautioned. “In fact, should lightning occur with minimal rainfall, it could spark renewed blazes in areas not yet burned.”
The extreme heat wave in the Northwest is beginning to subside in Seattle and Portland, Oregon, but much of the West will continue to deal with baking temperatures as millions remain under heat alerts.Canada and US cities in the Northwest have reported their hottest temperatures on record. More than 52 million people are under a heat warning or advisory from coast to coast.Three potential deaths associated with heat-related illness were reported Sunday and Monday, according to Washington Department of Health spokesman Cory Portner.
While temperatures are likely to let up in the Northeast by Wednesday’s end, the heat is expected to last in the Northwest well into mid-July, CNN’s meteorologist Michael Guy predicted.
Portland set an all-time, record-high temperature three days in a row, topping out at 116 degrees on Monday. Seattle hit 108 degrees, breaking the all-time record it set just a day earlier.Enter your email to sign up for the Wonder Theory newsletter.“close dialog”
Kristina Dahl, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says the heat wave is “unprecedented.””We saw heat records over the weekend only to be broken again the next day,” Dahl told CNN, “particularly for a part of the country where this type of heat does not happen very often.”Multiple experts, including Pennsylvania State University’s climate scientist Michael E. Mann, have blamed one thing for the soaring temperatures — climate change.”You warm up the planet, you’re going to see an increased incidence of heat extremes,” Mann told CNN.
Heat blamed for dozens of deaths and even more emergency room visits
At least 676 people in Washington state visited emergency departments for heat-related symptoms from Friday through Sunday — before the heat wave hit its peak.On Monday alone, there were 688 heat-related emergency department visits, according to Portner, who said the state had recorded at least 1,384 hospital visits related to the heat since the weekend.In addition to the three potential deaths connected to heat-related illnesses, Portner said officials were looking into one potential death associated with submersion and drowning.
The Northwest heat wave is ‘unprecedented.’ Here’s what’s pushing it into uncharted territory.King County, which is home to Seattle, had 40 emergency department visits for heat-related illness on Saturday and 91 on Sunday, according to Gabriel Spitzer, communications specialist for Public Health Seattle & King County.On Monday, there were 223 emergency department visits for heat-related illness among King County residents, according to Spitzer.The eastern Washington city of Spokane hit 109 degrees, breaking the previous record of 108 degrees set on August 4, 1961, according to National Weather Service Spokane.The city of Wenatchee, Washington, broke an all-time heat record, reaching 114 degrees. And Omak, Washington, hit 117 degrees, shattering the previous record of 114 degrees set on July 4, 1928.Volunteers with the United Farm Workers in Prosser, Washington, distributed water and Gatorade in the cherry fields, according to the UFW Facebook page.The high in Prosser reached 113 degrees on Tuesday.
‘We have to act and act fast:’ Biden says climate change is driving wildfires and historic heat waveIn Oregon, a total of 506 heat-related visits to emergency departments and urgent care centers were reported by the state’s health authority. At least 251 visits occurred on Monday alone, when temperatures were highest.In the Portland area, the 97 emergency department and urgent care clinic visits for heat illness is nearly the same number of cases they would expect to see all summer, according to Multnomah County communications director Julie Sullivan-Springhetti.”The record breaking heat also broke records for calls for help. Emergency calls, visits to the emergency rooms, and calls for people and pets reached all-time highs,” Sullivan-Springhetti said in an email to CNN.Along the West Coast, more than 20 million people were under a heat warning or advisory, from the Canadian border to the Mexican border.Meanwhile, more than 230 deaths have been reported in British Columbia since Friday as a historic heat wave brought record-high temperatures there, officials said Tuesday.”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,” Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a statement.
More than 230 deaths reported in British Columbia amid historic heat waveIn Vancouver, officers have responded to more than 65 sudden deaths since the heat wave began on Friday, prompting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to issue a statement about a “concerning increase in sudden deaths amid the heat wave.”Royal Canadian Mounted Police responded to 35 sudden deaths in Surrey, British Columbia, since Monday, media relations officer Cst. Sarbjit K. Sangha told CNN.”While the causes of death has not yet been determined in each of these cases, we can confirm that Surrey RCMP is responding to a higher than usual number of deaths since the beginning of the extreme weather conditions,” Sangha said.
In the nearby city of Burnaby, police responded to more than 25 sudden death calls in a 24-hour period since Monday, with heat believed to be a contributing factor in the majority of the deaths, according to a release from RCMP.”We are seeing this weather can be deadly for vulnerable members of our community, especially the elderly and those with underlying health issues. It is imperative we check on one another during this extreme heat,” Cpl. Mike Kalanj with Burnaby RCMP said.
The Pacific north-west, known for its moderate climate, is experiencing a record heatwave. The temperatures have driven crowds to the region’s beaches, pools and air-conditioned hotels, as residents in a region with few air-conditioned households try desperately to get some relief.
Here’s what you need to know:
What’s going on?
A heatwave has engulfed the region, with both Portland and Seattle breaking record high temperatures (Portland hit 112F, while Seattle hit 104F) over the weekend. Seattle has reached 100F for three consecutive days – a first for the typically overcast city. Washington state surpassed its all-time high for June, with at least one part of the state reaching 115F on Sunday.
In many areas outside these metropolitan hubs, temperatures were even more extreme. Canby, in north-western Oregon, for example, hit 118F over the weekend, according to Nick Bond, the Washington state climatologist. At the same time, Spokane, Wenatchee and Pullman, Washington, each beat their previous record high for overnight temperatures, according to the National Weather Service.
The air quality has also become a concern in some areas. On Monday, the Puget Sound clean air agency tweeted that the extreme heat had resulted in the air quality in the Cascade foothills becoming “unhealthy”.
A heat warning was in effect for most of western Canada, too. The country set its highest recorded temperature on Sunday, when the village of Lytton hit 115F (46.1C).
The heatwave was caused by two pressure systems, one coming from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, and the other from James Bay and Hudson Bay in Canada, explained Richard Bann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.
“The Pacific north-west got caught in a region where a series of feedbacks set up these very warm temperatures – no, hot temperatures – with very little cloud cover and very warm temperatures at night too,” he said.
It blows my mind that we could get these temperatures before the middle of the century, the latter part of the century
And these types of extreme hot weather events are being exacerbated by global heating.
The heatwave is being described as a “heat dome”. The term refers to the idea that this type of warmth extends high into the atmosphere and isn’t just a thin layer, and that it can have an impact on pressure and wind patterns. “That is important here in the Pacific north-west with the present event because it has served to essentially shut off the flow of cool marine air off of the Pacific into the land area,” Bond said.
How unusual is it?
Bond said similar events didn’t happen often, taking place every one to three decades.
“It blows my mind that we could get the temperatures that we’re observing here in the Pacific north-west, especially on the west sides of the Cascades that [have] that proximity to the ocean, that it could get that hot for so many days in a row,” he said. “I would have been willing to guess something like that in the middle of the century, in the latter part of the century.”
Why has this been so concerning?
These temperatures, while certainly not the worst in the country, are particularly detrimental for this region. The area isn’t used to this and hasn’t adapted to these types of temperatures, explained Bond.
“When it gets really hot here, we haven’t learned how to deal with it the same way other parts of the country have,” he said.
He gave the example of a colleague whose apartment in Seattle reached 100F. When she looked for an air-conditioned hotel, she found most in and around Seattle sold out, and the ones that weren’t were charging hundreds of dollars for a single night.
How long will it last
Relief is on its way for some parts of the region, including Seattle and Portland, according to Bond. But they will probably still experience higher temperatures than normal over the next two weeks. That type of prolonged heat could be dangerous when it came to wildfires and extremely detrimental for land agriculture, he said.
But Bann said further inland, it would continue to be very hot, with temperatures around 113F in some areas. He said those areas would probably see high temperatures continuing into the middle or later part of this week.
How are people coping?
Across the region, residents are turning to cooling centers, beaches, pools and hotels to get some relief.
On Sunday, Seattle’s mayor, Jenny Durkan, announced the opening of the Amazon Meeting Center as a cooling center, saying it had a capacity of 1,000 people. The city has also highlighted the fact that on Saturday, “libraries and water activities saw the highest use by residents and families”.
Multnomah county, which includes Portland, has opened a series of libraries as cooling centers, as well as the Oregon Convention Center and the Arbor Lodge Shelter.
Some in these regions have taken to posting to neighborhood social media groups as they search desperately for air-conditioning units, fans or simply tricks for keeping themselves cool.
Edward SegarraUSA TODAY0:361:04https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.469.0_en.html#goog_306276742
Some stores in the Pacific Northwest are selling out of portable air conditioners and fans as residents accustomed to mild summers brace for a heatwave that could bring triple-digit temperatures to major cities.
The Dalles, Oregon, which has a population of approximately 16,000, could approach its all-time record of 112 degrees on Sunday and Spokane, Washington, could also make history with its slated slew of 100-degree temperatures.
“A dangerous heatwave is impacting the Pacific Northwest and into southern California,” the National Weather Service tweeted. “More than one hundred record high temperatures are forecast this weekend through Thursday.”
Heat exhaustion, a condition which “occurs when you can’t sweat enough to cool your body,” turns the skin pale, cool and moist and can be indicated by symptoms such as “fatigue, weakness, headache, dizziness and nausea,” according to Kaiser Permanente. Moderate to severe cases of heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, which can be deadly.
Extreme heat can also place a strain on electrical infrastructure, potentially compromising the region’s already unusually low access to the cooling relief of air conditioning.
A spike in temperatures also leads to concerns about air quality and wildfires.
Kristie Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington who studies global warming and its effects on public health, said warm air sucks moisture out of the soil and vegetation more efficiently than cooler air and that makes everything more prone to fire.Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.
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Oregon in particular was devastated by an unusually intense wildfire season last fall that torched about 1 million acres, burned more than 4,000 homes and killed nine people. Several fires are already burning around the Pacific Northwest, and much of the region is already in extreme or exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
How to stay cool amid Pacific Northwest heat
There are numerous measures individuals can take to stay cool and reduce the health impacts of a heatwave.
Opening house windows at night, keeping window blinds closed, using the air currents from fans, cooking outdoors and sleeping at a low elevation can mitigate the severity of the heat.
Local communities’ public facilities can also serve as an oasis when temperatures begin to soar. Places like libraries, community centers and churches transform themselves into cooling stations by opening their air-conditioned doors to members of the public The city of Salem, Oregon, has a number of these cooling stations established for this weekend, according to the Statesman Journal.
In cases where someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, there are a few self-administered interventions that can be taken to alleviate symptoms, according to Mayo Clinic.
Pacific Northwesterners can expect this heatwave to extend into the middle of next week, with the National Weather Service tweeting that record high temperatures are forecast to run through Thursday. However, the sweltering heat may become increasingly normal in coming years.
Ebi said this extended “heat dome” is a taste of the future for the Pacific Northwest as climate change reshapes weather patterns worldwide.
“We know from evidence around the world that climate change is increasing the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves,” Ebi said. “We’re going to have to get used to this going forward. Temperatures are going up, and extreme temperatures are going up even faster.
“I tell my students when they get to be as old as I am, they’re going to look back and think about how nice the summers used to be.”
The West hasn’t totally cooled off, but the region has gotten a slight reprieve from the heat that has dried up reservoirs, curtailed hydropower, and otherwise wrought havoc on the megadrought-afflicted region. Unfortunately, all good(ish) things must come to an end.
The National Weather Service is warning of a “Record-Breaking and Dangerous Heatwave” hitting this weekend and early next week. Weather models are also coalescing around blistering heat. If the forecasts come to fruition, we’re not just talking about a few daily records falling here and there. We’re talking about a heat wave for the ages that could absolutely destroy all-time records from Washington to California as well as parts of Canada.
In what’s becoming an all-too-familiar pattern for those in the western half of the U.S., high pressure is expected to move in and park itself over the region in the coming days. That will usher in sunny skies and allow heat to start to build. By Sunday, a region from the Yukon to Southern California could see temperatures well above normal. The bullseye of heat will center on the Pacific Northwest where temperatures could be an eye-watering 40 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius) above normal.
The Euro and GFS weather models, essentially the two gold standards for forecasters, are in agreement that the magnitude of this event will be extreme. While there are some slight differences of a few degrees up or down, the overall alignment is generally a sign something very rare and serious is about to go down. Among the more disturbing numbers coming out of the models are Portland cracking 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius), a threshold the city has never breached.
Overnight temperatures will also remain elevated throughout the region, and all-time hot low temperatures could also be toppled as well. That’s particularly worrisome since nighttime usually offers a reprieve. In a region where air conditioning isn’t as widespread as, say, Southern California, the relentlessness of the heat coupled with a lack of cooling options could unleash a wave of heat-related illnesses.
In an ironic twist, one factor that could lead to records not being broken is smoke from wildfires sparked due to hot conditions currently racking the West dimming the sun. Fires are already burning across the region and a large portion of the West is under a red flag warning as thunderstorms buzz through along with winds of up to 60 mph (97 kph). I’m not sure I’d call that a meteorological win since smoke can be just as dangerous to public (and planetary) health as heat.
“We have human-caused climate change, making a moderate drought turn into a super megadrought,” Stewart Cohen, a retired climatologist after 35 years with Environment and Climate Change Canada, told the CBC. “We have a warmer climate because of greenhouse gases. It’s making droughts worse, dryer, and it’s making heat waves also worse.”
This is only the beginning, though. Climate change is expected to keep increasing the odds of heat and megadrought this century. The records that could fall this weekend and early next week will surely not be the last. But if what we’re seeing out West is any indication, we have a lot of work to do to ensure water systems, cities, and forests are ready for what comes next.
High heat so early in the day have reinforced the need for the excessive heat warnings that have been in place throughout Arizona, Nevada, Utah and California all week.
Nighttime temperatures can be dangerous
On Friday morning, Phoenix recorded a low temperature — yes, a LOW temperature — of 92. This is a problem because it doesn’t allow the body to successfully cool down at night.The temperature needs to drop to at least 80 degrees for recovery to begin. In fact, a person can lose up to 2 liters of fluid overnight through sweating if the temperature never drops below 85 degrees.
From Sunday to Tuesday alone, 159 maximum daily high temperature records were broken, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. More than 50 additional records could be broken through Sunday in many of the same states that had them earlier in the week.Temperatures will remain 10 to 20 degrees above average through the weekend for much of the West.
The good news is that the heat begins to wane by the start of next week across the Southwest. By Wednesday, the heat breaks a bit in the Pacific Northwest as well.However, since we are only just two weeks into meteorological summer, long-term cooler temperatures aren’t expected for quite some time.
Visitors feel the heat in California’s Death Valley earlier this week. This record-setting heat wave’s remarkable power, reach and unusually early appearance is giving meteorologists yet more cause for concern about extreme weather in an era of climate change.Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images
It might be tempting to shrug at the scorching weather across large swaths of the West. This just in: It gets hot in the summer.
But this record-setting heat wave’s remarkable power, size and unusually early appearance is giving meteorologists and climate experts yet more cause for concern about the routinization of extreme weather in an era of climate change.
These sprawling, persistent high-pressure zones popularly called “heat domes” are relatively common in later summer months. This current system is different.
“It’s not only unusual for June, but it is pretty extreme even in absolute terms,” says Daniel Swain, climate scientist at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “It would be a pretty extreme event for August,” Swain says, when these typically occur.
From the Great Plains to the coast, cities are setting record temps
This heat dome’s reach is remarkable, too: It has set record highs stretching from the Great Plains to coastal California. And these aren’t just records for that specific date or month, but in a few spots, they are records for the singularly hottest day in the entire period of record, sometimes stretching back 100 to 150 years. “That’s a pretty big deal,” Swain says.Article continues after sponsor message
“It’s unusual in that it’s more intense in terms of the maximum temperature,” says Alison Bridger, a professor in the Meteorology and Climate Science department at San Jose State University. “And how widespread the impact is.”
For example, Palm Springs, Calif., recently hit 123 degrees, equaling its highest recorded temperature.
Denver this week hit 100 for three straight days, the earliest date of such a streak on record, tweeted meteorologist Bob Henson. He noted that all of the 100-degree streaks in Denver’s 150 years of climate record keeping have occurred in the last three decades.
And in the Plains, several cities including Omaha, Neb., set records, including a daily record high of 105 degrees. That breaks an Omaha daily record set in 1918.
Just last year, several cities in the West also hit record highs.
This current heat dome “fits with climate change ideas, global warming, meaning that it’s just a little bit warmer than it would have been last year,” Bridger says. “And if we have this next year, it’ll be just a little bit warmer again.”
The “heat dome” is making droughts even worse
It’s also coinciding with and worsening record drought across big parts of the West. These two things, Daniel Swain says, are now making each other worse.
“The drought is leading to extremely low soil moisture, which is making it easier for these high pressure systems to generate extreme heat waves because more of the sun’s energy is going into heating the atmosphere rather than evaporating nonexistent water in the soil.”
And that is only making things hotter and drier.
“That’s sort of the vicious cycle of drought and extreme heat in a warming climate,” he says.
Experts say this current heat dome is yet more evidence of the impact of human-caused climate change.
Bridger at San Jose State says while that is most likely the case, “it takes a lot of work to figure that out. A lot of hard scientific work in order to be statistically sure that it’s associated with climate change,” she says.
Others are more certain.
“It’s just so clear at this point,” says climate scientist Swain, “when it comes to record-breaking heat events, the study has been run for event after event after event in region after region after region in year after year.”