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Posted: July 18, 2021

No relief in sight from torrid temperatures

“Perceptions,” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

There are three situations it’s dangerous to experience in B.C. this torrid summer – to be a senior, to be a senior living alone and to be a senior living in an apartment without air conditioning.

Sad to say – tragic even – if these three conditions apply to your situation you may be departing this mortal coil sooner than you planned.

According to the latest figures issued by the BC Coroner’s Office July 2, some 719 British Columbians died suddenly for no apparent reason in the period June 25 to July 1 about three times the normal total expected over a typical summer week. Of course, that particular week was anything but “normal” with the province experiencing a searing heat wave that broke records from the normally mild Lower Mainland to the sagebrush benches of the Fraser Canyon and the arid hills surrounding Kamloops.

The tragic result, of course, was a forest fire that swept into Lytton killing at least two people and destroying more than 90% of the small village that experienced an unbelievable temperature of 46.9 C (117 F) on June 30 setting a new record for Canada and hotter than almost anywhere in the US outside of Death Valley. Cranbrook hit 40 C (103 F) the same day.

Provincial Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said extreme heat was a “significant contributing factor” in the 719 sudden deaths, many of them seniors living alone, and more deaths were likely if the extreme heat continues.

The current B.C. forecast is calling for the heat wave to continue into August as well as thick smoke from more than 300 forest fires burning in the province. Given these harsh conditions, Lapointe said, “please look out for family, friends and neighbours, particularly those who live alone.”

It’s a grim warning and one that certainly applies in Cranbrook where many homes and apartments don’t have air conditioning. And what if we don’t watch out? Europe found out in 2003 when a deadly heat wave killed an estimated 35,000 people with some even dying at work. High electricity costs and low rates of air conditioning were major factors in the tragedy.

But climate scientists say this is only the beginning. Changes in the jet stream that govern our temperatures are becoming more erratic and this triggers the sweltering extremes we’re experiencing now. UBC climatology professor Simon Donner told CBC news, “As a climate scientist, we expect to see more extreme heat waves going forward into the future because we’re adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. But this is even beyond my expectations.”

Ironically, climate change is happening in the Arctic faster than anywhere else, driving the intense temperatures being experienced in B.C. and across southern Canada. “There’s something that feels a bit different about this one and I can’t quite put my finger on it,” said Joseph Shea, a professor of environmental geomatics at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George. “I was trying to come up with a word on the weekend and I think the word is menacing. It really feels like dangerous heat.”

Many weather forecasters talked about a “heat dome” that sat over much of B.C. and the Pacific Northwest in late June and early July giving not only record highs in the day but nights much warmer than usual making it almost impossible for  people to recover from the high temperatures at night.

Sweating my way home from a walk downtown this week, I saw something I’d never seen before – people sitting in Joseph Creek in Baker Park, trying to beat the heat. Kind of ironic when you consider the wonderfully cool and heavily patronized freshwater pool that used to exist in the park until the politicians decided it was too expensive to maintain.

Making matters even worse, our Rec Plex pool shut down June 14 and the closure “does not have a defined end date  at this time,” according to a sign on the entrance door.

It’s tough being a swimmer in Cranbrook, especially in the summer!

As for the lovely lakes and streams surrounding Cranbrook, I can attest that many of them like JimSmith and Wasa – as wonderful as they are – are currently as warm as pea soup and do little to refresh.

And for all the climate change deniers out there, take a good look at Mt. Fisher. The patch of snow at the base of the rugged peak is almost gone now and it usually lasts well into September.

A bad omen you might say; and I think you would be right.

Lead image: The Bill Nye wildfire southeast of Wasa burns as beach goers go about keep cooling in the 36 C heat today (July 18) at Wasa Provincial Park. Ian Cobb/e-KNOW photo

– Gerry Warner is a retired journalist and a senior, who gets cranky in the heat.

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