BRAUN: Canada will face 'lethal heat' in a few decades, says Study

Liz Braun 3 minute read May 15, 2022

Canada is hot and getting hotter.

Lethal heat will be a reality within 30 years.

Irreversible Extreme Heat: Protecting Canadians and Communities from a Lethal Future, from geoscientist Joanna Eyquem and Blair Feltmate, is a new study from the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation (a research facility at the University of Waterloo) that projects a roasty future in Canadian cities as temperatures continue to rise.

Cities are the focus because urban areas are the hotspots of global warming, as they’re hotter than surrounding countryside, with heat trapped and reflected by roads, paved areas and other surfaces.

This is the urban-heat-island effect.

The extreme heat coming our way carries with it concurrent threats of flooding, wildfires and other natural disasters already happening in Canada.

Canada is warming (on average) at twice the global rate, researchers state.

As always, some Canadians will be more vulnerable than others: The elderly, the economically disadvantaged, those who labour outdoors and people who already have health issues.

The researchers are quite specific about areas at risk:  “Low-lying areas from the West Coast to the Rocky Mountains (British Columbia), the Prairies bordering the United States (southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) and north of Lake Erie through the St. Lawrence River Valley (southern Ontario and Quebec).”

The study states that widespread death will result if an extreme heat event and a lengthy power outage happen at the same time; being prepared for this type of weather emergency has become crucial.

Everyone has to take steps now to reduce personal and community risk from extreme heat.

The study provides a detailed list of actions individuals, building owners and communities can take to protect one another.

From installation of heat-reducing windows and shading devices (such as shutters or awnings) to planting more trees and making an emergency plan with neighbours, there are plenty of things individuals can do.

On the community level, cooling centres, reduction of vehicle traffic and local support programs are among the suggested solutions.

Extreme heat is already causing premature deaths in Canada. During a heat wave last summer in British Columbia, 526 people died as a result of extreme heat in the last five days of June.

Much of Canada will experience extreme temperatures in the years 2051–2080. The report looks at three indicators: very hot days (over 30C), warmest maximum temperature and heat wave duration.

Toronto can expect very hot days — over 30C — to increase from a dozen each summer to more than 50 by 2051.

The further south you go in Ontario, the worse it gets, with Hamilton and the Niagara region sweltering in life-threatening temperatures, and Windsor set to be on the receiving end of almost 80 days a year of temperatures higher than 30C.

And by higher, scientists predict heat in the range of 38C in the second half of the century. In places such as Kelowna, B.C. and Regina, temperatures of 40C will not be out of the ordinary.

The current trajectory will see Toronto experience heat waves that stretch on for more than a week.

Extreme heat affects every element of life, creating electrical problems, damaging infrastructure, reducing insect and bird populations, affecting water quality and putting tremendous pressure on human health and health-care services.

To avoid all of this getting worse, action is required now.

In Toronto, there are community action groups you can join.

The research study mentions CREW — Community Resilience to Extreme Weather — a group with strategies to protect neighbours and be prepared with an emergency plan.

Meanwhile, Irreversible Extreme Heat: Protecting Canadians and Communities from a Lethal Future should be required reading.

lbraun@postmedia.com

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