At least 34 people have died in the Vancouver area suddenly in a record-smashing heatwave engulfing western Canada and parts of the US Pacific Northwest, police said Tuesday.
“Although still under investigation, heat is believed to be a contributing factor in the majority of the deaths,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Corporal Michael Kalanj said in a statement, adding that most of the deceased were elderly.
However, in some cases temperatures have been close to 20 C above normal, shattering more than 70 temperature records in British Columbia and Alberta on Sunday alone.
“It’s something as a meteorologist I’ve just never seen before,” said Anthony Farnell, chief meteorologist for Global News. “I think undeniable that there is a linkage to climate change.”
The unseasonably hot weather has many asking whether the heat wave is a mere one-off or can be attributed to climate change. Climatologists are typically wary of trying to attribute any specific extreme weather event to climate change — although the evolving field of event attribution is beginning to change that.
“Weather-wise, the current heat wave in the west is due to a “heat dome,” Farnell explained.
“It’s a large area of high pressure that extends well up into the atmosphere. So in B.C., even at the top of the Rocky Mountains, the temperature is some 15 to 20 degrees above normal,” he said. “So when you have this dome, this high-pressure system, it’s a lot of sinking air underneath that just warms more as it comes down towards the coast.”
On top of this, the sun is shining day after day, and creating a bubble where the jet stream can do nothing but go around it, Farnell said. This stops the rain from coming in or cold fronts from cooling things down.
Although heat domes are nothing new, he explained that the frequency and duration in which they are happening could be attributed to climate change. .