At least 69 people have died in the Vancouver area of Canada as a result of a record-breaking heat wave that has engulfed the west of the country and the Pacific Northwest of the United States, police said Tuesday.
According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the majority of the dead in the Vancouver suburbs of Burnaby and Surrey in the last 24 hours were elderly or people with underlying health conditions.
Local governments have also stated that they have responded to numerous sudden death calls since Monday, but have yet to release tolls.
“While the investigation is ongoing, heat is believed to be a contributing factor in the majority of the deaths,” RCMP Corporal Michael Kalanj said in a statement. Temperatures that break records are becoming more common as a result of climate change. Globally, the decade from 2000 to 2019 was the warmest ever recorded, with the five hottest years all occurring within the last five years.
A high-pressure ridge trapping warm air in the region has been blamed for the scorching heat extending from the US state of Oregon to Canada’s Arctic territories.
On Monday, Canada set a new all-time high temperature record of 118°F (47.9°C) in Lytton, British Columbia, about 155 miles (250 kilometers) east of Vancouver.
Forecasters predicted that the record would be broken again on Tuesday, with temperatures in western Canada reaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, in the United States’ Pacific Northwest, reached levels not seen since record-keeping began in the 1940s: 115 degrees Fahrenheit in Portland and 108 degrees Fahrenheit in Seattle, according to the National Weather Service.
For several days, temperatures in Vancouver, on the Pacific coast, have exceeded 86 degrees Fahrenheit (or almost 20 degrees above seasonal norms). Due to high humidity, climatologists said it felt like 111 degrees Fahrenheit inland along the Fraser River delta on Tuesday. “We are in the midst of the hottest week British Columbians have ever experienced, and there are consequences, devastating consequences for families and communities,” British Columbia Premier John Horgan said at a news conference.
“The only way we’re going to get through this extraordinary time is to stick together,” he said.
“Checking up on those people we know might be at risk, making sure we have cold compresses in the fridge or staying in the coolest part of our homes, and making sure we’re taking steps to get through this heatwave,” he advised.
Environment Canada has issued warnings for British Columbia, Alberta, as well as parts of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories, stating that the “prolonged, dangerous, and historic heat wave” will continue this week.
The National Weather Service in the United States issued a similar advisory, advising people to “stay in air-conditioned buildings, avoid strenuous outdoor activities, drink plenty of water, and check on family members/neighbors.”
In the Vancouver area, the heat wave has forced schools and Covid-19 vaccination centers to close, while officials have set up temporary water fountains and misting stations on street corners. Because stores quickly ran out of portable air conditioners and fans, many people who didn’t have air conditioning at home said they hunkered down in their air-conditioned cars or underground parking garages at night.
Cities throughout the western United States and Canada opened emergency cooling centers, and outreach workers distributed water bottles and hats.
The final day of the US Olympic track and field trials in Eugene, Oregon, had to be rescheduled, with afternoon events being moved to the evening. The extreme heat, combined with the severe drought, also created ideal conditions for several fires to erupt over the weekend, with one blaze on the California-Oregon border having already burned 600 hectares (1,500 acres) by Monday morning.
“Dubai would be cooler than what we’re seeing now,” Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips said on Monday.