The Gleaner

Settling in for a hot summer

Over 100 records were shattered across Canada last week, as a heat dome caused temperatures to soar. It was hot, like a late-July scorcher, except that we hadn’t had a few weeks of summer to get used to the heat. It was sudden, intense, and sweltering. It was also dangerous.

Experts agree that with climate change, we are likely to see higher temperatures and more frequent episodes of extreme heat where daytime temperatures exceed 30 degrees Celsius and hover around 20 C at night; or oppressive heat, where temperatures surpass 40 C when factoring in humidity. For most, heat waves are simply uncomfortable; but for those without ventilation or access to air-conditioned spaces, or those considered vulnerable, discomfort can quickly become a critical health risk.

Last week, in response, local municipalities and organizations opened their air-conditioned offices as respite areas, and those equipped with splash pads and other water activities extended their hours to offer relief to families. Such reactions were welcomed, and will no doubt become part of adaptation plans moving forward as we come to grips with more frequent and intense heat waves.

This most recent heat wave also coincided with the last week of school for elementary students and the end of final exams for those in secondary schools. A staff member at a local elementary school sent a snapshot of her classroom temperature on Thursday morning. The thermometer was reading 31.5 degrees, and this was before the students even entered the building. Schools did what they could to manage, from busing kids to air-conditioned movie theatres to ice-cream-stand runs, frequent plays at the splash pad, and even visits from local fire departments who rigged up their hoses. As New Frontiers School Board director general Mike Helm says, it was a very difficult week.

Hopefully we are not in for a difficult summer. It’s easy to brush this heat wave off as an extreme, but it is part of an overall trend of warmer weather that we have been seeing all year, and Environment and Climate Change Canada is predicting higher-than-normal temperatures for the season.

Experts have now developed a weather attribution system that will rapidly identify links between extreme temperatures and the human-caused climate change that makes these events more intense. It’s part of a country-wide strategy to adapt to extreme weather. It is also a very real acknowledgement that the climate is changing, and we need to be better prepared.
Sarah Rennie

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