The June 2021 heat wave in British Columbia and Alberta

July 20, 2021  |  Charles Lin

Image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

Image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

Reposted January 17, 2022


A heat wave in British Columbia (BC) and Alberta at the end of June 2021 smashed temperature records. The temperature of 49.6oC on June 29 in the village of Lytton, BC, was the highest ever recorded in Canada; Lytton’s inhabitants were evacuated before a wildfire almost destroyed the village.

The impact of the heat wave in the Pacific Northwest was devastating. The BC Coroners Service reported 719 sudden deaths during the week of the heat wave, triple the number that would normally occur in the province. The heat wave buckled infrastructure – see here for pictures and coverage of buckling of sidewalks and bending of picnic table benches in Alberta. It also caused power outages, impacted water usage and crop growth, and primed many areas for wildfire.

As of July 16, 2021, more than 300 wildfires are burning in BC, and firefighters from Quebec and Mexico are en route to assist with local firefighting efforts(5). As of July 19, 2,200 firefighting personnel are combatting the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, the largest wildfire so far this year in the US.

What is sobering is scientific analysis by a group of 27 scientists from 8 countries, including 3 from Canada, shows the heat wave almost certainly could not have happened without human-induced climate change. The results show the heat wave event is estimated to be about a 1 in 1,000 year event in today’s climate, which already includes 1.2oC of global warming due to climate change. Without human-induced climate change, this already rare event would have been 150 times rarer. In other words, human-induced climate change made the occurrence of the heat wave 150 times more likely.

What about the future? At current emissions levels of greenhouse gases, we can expect a world with 2oC of global warming to be reached in the 2040s. The heat wave event, currently estimated to occur once every 1,000 years, would occur about every 5-10 years in the 2oC warmer world.

What can we do? In the short term, we need to put in place adaptation measures to deal with the expected frequent heat waves. An example of such a measure is to make available more air-conditioned homes and buildings, especially to vulnerable citizens such as the elderly who live alone. In the long term, we must reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, as the buildup of these gases is the root cause of global warming.

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Charles Lin

Charles is a retired atmospheric scientist based in Toronto. He stays busy as founder and lead of ImpactNetZero, keeping healthy in mind and body, and reading stories to his two grandchildren.

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