Heat Dome over the Pacific Northwest worst on record: hundreds die  

Death Valley
Visitors walk past the thermometer at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center in Death Valley, California, U.S. on June 17, 2021. (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The ‘heat dome’ over western Canada and parts of the U.S. Pacific northwest is taking its toll: Already hundreds of deaths.

A Reuters report from Vancouver and Portland said:

In Canada’s British Columbia, at least 486 sudden deaths were reported over five days, nearly three times the usual number that would occur in the province over that period, the B.C. Coroners Service said Wednesday.

“This was a true health crisis that has underscored how deadly an extreme heat wave can be,” Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines said in the statement. “As our summers continue to get warmer, I suspect we will face this kind of event again.”

Death toll rising

Other media reports said:

The heatwave that smashed all-time high temperature records in western Canada and the U.S. Northwest has left a rising death toll in its wake as officials brace for more sizzling weather and the threat of wildfires.

The worst of the heat had passed by Wednesday, but the state of Oregon reported 63 deaths linked to the heatwave. Multnomah County, which includes Portland, reported 45 of those deaths since Friday, with the county Medical Examiner citing hyperthermia as the preliminary cause.

By comparison all of Oregon had only 12 deaths from hyperthermia from 2017 to 2019, the statement said. Across the state, hospitals reported a surge of hundreds of visits in recent days due to heat-related illness, the Oregon Health Authority said.

130 deaths in Seattle

A little north of Seattle, Vancouver, B.C., has also been significantly affected by the heat wave.

“The Coroners Service would normally receive approximately 130 reports of death over a four-day period. From Friday, June 25 through 3 p.m. on Monday, June 28, at least 233 deaths were reported. This number will increase as data continues to be updated.” Lisa Lapointe, British Columbia’s chief coroner, said in a statement.

A number of fatalities have also been linked to the surge in temperatures. The King County Medical Examiner’s Office in Washington reports that at least two people died from hyperthermia, a condition in which the body’s temperature becomes abnormally high, including a 65-year-old Seattle woman and a 68-year old woman from Enumclaw, a city south of Seattle, according to the Seattle Times.

Three more heat-related deaths were confirmed in Snohomish County, Wash., on Tuesday, all of whom were men, ages 51, 75 and 77.

34 died in Vancouver

A heat warning was issued in Vancouver, Canada after temperatures reached a record-breaking 47 degrees Celsius, leaving many vulnerable residents struggling in the sweltering heat.

It has been reported that more than 34 people in the city died suddenly on Tuesday and while it’s still under investigation, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Corporal Michael Kalanj said heat is believed to be a contributing factor in the majority of the deaths.

Farm worker died

The heat also claimed the life of an Oregon farm worker who died on a worksite in St. Paul on Saturday, according to state officials. “The employee was working on a crew moving irrigation lines. At the end of the shift he was found unresponsive in the field,” Aaron Corvin, a spokesperson for the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division told the Salem Reporter.

Thousand persons to emergency rooms

A report said on July 1, 2021:

The unprecedented heat wave in the Pacific Northwest this week sent more than 1,000 people to emergency rooms in Canada.

In the U.S., Seattle, which has had only two other days in the last 50 years with temperatures in the triple digits, also reached a record high of 108 degrees on Monday.

According to an Oregon Health Authority report published on Tuesday, 459 people have gone to the emergency room or an urgent care clinic due to the excessive heat. There were at least 250 hospital visits on Monday alone, when temperatures were at their highest.

In Washington state, U.S., at least 676 people visited emergency rooms for heat-related illnesses between Friday and Sunday, with 81 of the visits leading to inpatient admission, Cory Portner, a spokesperson for the state’s department of health, told BuzzFeed News. This number is striking against the state’s past data, which shows that heat-related hospitalizations surpassed 51 patients per year only twice between 2000 and 2018.

The heat dome, a weather phenomenon trapping heat and blocking other weather systems from moving in, weakened as it moved east, but was still intense enough to set records from Alberta to Manitoba, said David Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada, a government agency.

“In some of these places, their (temperature) records are being annihilated,” Phillips said. “It really is spectacular, unprecedented for us.”

It was unclear what triggered the dome, but climate change looks to be a contributor, given the heatwave’s duration and extremes, Phillips said.

Lytton, a town in central British Columbia, this week broke Canada’s all-time hottest temperature record three times. It stands at 49.6 degrees Celsius (121.28 degrees Fahrenheit) as of Tuesday. The previous high in Canada, known for brutally cold winters, was 45C, set in Saskatchewan in 1937.

In the U.S. Northwest, temperatures in Washington and Oregon soared well above 100F (38C) over the weekend. Portland set all-time highs several days in a row including 116F (47C) on Sunday.

In Washington state, where media also reported a surge in heat-related hospitalizations, Chelan County east of Seattle topped out at 119F (48C) on Tuesday.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown declared a state of emergency due to “imminent threat of wildfires” while the U.S. National Weather Service in Portland issued a red-flag warning for parts of the state, saying wind conditions could spread fire quickly.

The Portland Fire Department banned use of fireworks for the Fourth of July weekend, when Americans celebrate Independence Day.

Powder keg

Most of Alberta and large parts of British Columbia and Saskatchewan are at extreme risk of wildfires, according to Natural Resources Canada’s fire weather map.

“All the ingredients are there. It’s a powder keg just looking for a spark,” said Mike Flannigan, professor of wildland fire at University of Alberta.

But the Chilcotin region, roughly 600 km (370 miles) north of Vancouver, was on flood warning due to the “unprecedented” amount of snow melting at “extraordinary” rates, according to a government release.

“These are the types of issues that are going to be confronted more and more over the next few years,” said Adam Rysanek, assistant professor of environmental systems at the University of British Columbia.

Resources depleted

Vancouver Police have announced that front-line resources are depleted and response times are severely delayed as a result of the sudden influx of heat-related deaths.

These Northern cities, where average June temperatures are in the 70s, are underprepared to combat the heat. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 78 percent of Portland homes have primary air conditioning installed, while Seattle has an even lower number, with 44 percent of homes.

A lack of air conditioning is a risk factor for heatstroke, especially if temperatures rise to 104 degrees or higher, per the Mayo Clinic Website. Heatstroke does not cause death directly, but it can induce other, potentially fatal conditions, including cardiac events, respiratory problems and kidney disease.

The Pacific north-west is forcing people to sleep in ‘cooling shelters’ to get some relief from the blistering heat.

Cooling Centers, Fans 

People turn to extreme measures to keep cool in an extreme heatwave. (Getty Images)

Across the region, residents are turning to specially set up ‘cooling centers’, beaches, pools and air-conditioned shopping centers and hotels to get some relief.

For those without air conditioning some opted to sleep in their vehicles in underground car parks, while others improvised cooling devices using electric fans and bags of ice.

What’s causing this extreme weather?

Meteorologists say the unprecedented conditions are being caused by the ‘heat dome’.

A heat dome occurs when high pressure positions itself over an area, acting a little like a lid on a saucepan, and trapping heat.

BBC forecaster Nick Miller says that ‘heat dome’ isn’t a strictly defined meteorological term but has become associated with describing large areas of high pressure, leading to clear skies and hot, sunny days.

The longer the high pressure pattern lasts, the longer the heatwave is and temperatures can build day by day.

Climate scientists say global warming has increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, but it is difficult to link any one specific event to the earth’s increasing temperature.

A taste of the future

Kristie Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington, who studies global warming and its effects on public health, told Associated Press that the extreme temperatures witnessed across the region could be a taste of the future as climate change reshapes global weather patterns.

“This event will likely be one of the most extreme and prolonged heatwaves in the recorded history of the inland Northwest,” the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) said.

“Residents are urged to avoid extended periods of time outdoors, stay hydrated and check on vulnerable family members/neighbors,” the service continued.

There are around 2000 heat-related deaths per year in the UK, but in summer 2020 there were an estimated 2,556 all-cause excess deaths during episodes of hot weather across all ages (excluding deaths from COVID-19).

Protecting in extreme heatwave

It is important to know how to cope if the mercury suddenly spikes.

Last year also concluded the earth’s warmest 10-year period on record; with 2020 proving the second warmest year in the 170 year series.

Heating expert Jordan Chance from PlumbNation said: There are many small adjustments we can make within our homes to keep cooler whilst temperatures rise.

Keep your curtains closed and windows shut

It might seem counter-intuitive to keep your windows shut in a hot weather, but keeping the sun’s heat out of your home is key to keeping it nice and cool. This is why you always see shutters on homes in warmer countries.

“Keeping your curtains closed helps stop the sun from heating up your house! It’s also important to keep your windows closed when it’s cooler inside than out.” adds Chance.

Take a cool shower and keep hydrated

Taking a cool or tepid shower especially later on in the day will help bring your body temperature down, which can help you sleep at night.

“It’s also really important to stay hydrated to prevent dehydration and keep your body cool. Your body also loses electrolytes through sweating so think about drinking fluids such as fruit juice to help replenish your body,” Chance explains.

Avoid heated and electric appliances

Having your oven turned on increases the temperature of your kitchen which can heat up the rest of your house. An excuse to get the BBQ out if ever we heard one!

“Light bulbs and plugged in appliances also generate heat, so it is best to keep these unplugged and turned off when not using – this will not only help keep your home cool but will also save you some money,” adds Chance.

Create a DIY air conditioner

Putting ice into a bowl in front of a fan will blow cold air throughout the room bringing the temperature down. “Another great trick is using an ice water bottle and popping it into your bed to keep it cool,” Chance adds.

“Alternatively change your bedsheets to cotton or linen, as this can help lower your body temperature as the material breathes more easily.”

Sleep downstairs

Time to wheel out your school science knowledge and remember that heat rises, so it makes sense to stay downstairs.

“Heat rises throughout the home during the day, by the evening your bedrooms upstairs can become rather unpleasant, you could try sleeping downstairs if you are really struggling, or even try moving your mattress onto the floor,” Chance adds.



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