Heatwaves

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Prairie heatIn Canada, a heatwave is officially defined as three or more consecutive days with temperatures above 32 °C. But since most Canadian provinces never reach anywhere near 32°C on average, a criterion of 30°C is more commonly used.

Heatwaves are much more common in the inland territories than along the coast, and the areas that border within 300km of the United States typically suffer the worst ones.
The heatwave that still holds the record in Canada occurred in 1936. It killed more than a thousand people. Temperatures reached 44.4 °C in St Albans and Emerson in Manitoba.

More recent occurrences include the July 2006 heatwave, during which Lytton in BC suffered three consecutive days of 41°C, and the average July temperature in Val Marie in Saskatchewan reached 32 °C.

Then there is the July 2007 heatwave during which temperatures in Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, and Regina reached 37°C, in Abbotsford BC 35°C and in Val Marie in Saskatchewan 41°C. The July 2009 heatwave took Abbotsford up to its all-time high of 38°C and Port Alberni in Vancouver Island up to 40°C.

Heatwaves have become more common with the increase in global warming, and are often accompanied by severe drought, crop failure and wild fires.  Since Canadians are not accustomed to severe heat, some provinces lose approximately 100 of their citizens to heat-related deaths annually. These deaths are expected by double by 2050 and triple by 2080.

Heat-related suffering and death is most common in young children and the elderly. It is, however, largely preventable by slowing down, drinking a lot of liquids, dressing in light clothing, staying out of the sun and drinking salted water or electrolyte-containing beverages (especially if experiencing muscle cramps).  Heat stroke is serious and potentially fatal.  If shivering or vomiting occur, call 911 immediately.