As Canadians watch the European heat wave in awe, we face our own climate challenges


Records are being broken across Europe, and Canadians may think they got lucky this summer, especially in light of the record heat wave in British Columbia last June.

But while we’ve had fewer heat waves this year compared to recent summers, it may just be a late start.

Much of southern Ontario has been under a heat warning since Tuesday, from Windsor to Ottawa, as well as much of Saskatchewan. In southern British Columbia, temperatures are forecast to be 32°C for much of the week in places like Kamloops and Kelowna, just below the heat warning criteria set out by Environment and Change. Climate Canada (ECCC).

“We had our turn last year,” said ECCC senior climatologist David Phillips. “It’s what we call the scorching days of summer; it’s halfway there. Usually a month after the longest day, you can have the hottest day. Not every year, because It depends on what air mass you’re under, but usually that’s when the earth’s waste heat is released into lakes and rivers.”

A Canadian climatologist on the link between climate change and extreme weather events

Dave Phillips, a senior climate scientist with Environment Canada, says “the evidence is compelling” that climate change is the root cause of the upward trend in extreme weather and weather-related disasters.

And, although we’ve had a slow start, there’s still plenty of summer to come.

“We’ve really had kind of a cool, wet spring in most parts of Canada,” Phillips said. “And so we heard about the heat waves in the United States and India, Pakistan, China and Europe. And we wonder, you know, where are we? Where do we stand in this?

Because the heat isn’t just in Europe right now.

As of Tuesday, 100 million Americans were under a heat warning or heat advisory, from Texas to parts of New York.

That’s not to say temperatures haven’t soared in the spring or summer in Canada so far — they’re just “one-day wonders,” Phillips said. But that will change for Eastern Canada.

“Our models suggest the second half of summer will be warmer than the first half in Eastern Canada,” he said. “We see this week as, really, the first kind of example of that.”

extreme extremes

While every year is different, climate change is altering weather patterns across the globe – as we’ve seen this year – from more frequent droughts to floods to heat waves. And Canada will not be spared.

“The warming we’ve experienced is about double the warming the global average has experienced,” said ECCC researcher Greg Flato, who is also vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Evolution’s Working Group I. climate (IPCC).

Flato said we should expect to see even drier conditions in the Prairies, an area that already experiences dry summers.

“And as the climate gets warmer, they tend to get drier,” he said. “It’s just kind of a rule of thumb everywhere: as dry areas get drier, wet areas get wetter as the climate changes. So we expect to see in general an increase in average precipitation across Canada. , especially in northern Canada.”

Last year the Prairies suffered an incredible drought, although Phillips noted that conditions seem to be improving.

As for the heat future, the hottest areas are expected to get hotter.

Take, for example, Toronto, which has a population of over 2.9 million. According to Climate Atlas of Canada, from 1976 to 2005 the average number of days above 30 days C was 11.9. In the best-case scenario, between 2021 and 2050, this number will increase to 27.7 days.

In a more extreme example, Medicine Hat, Alta. will see its number jump from 26.4 to 41.2.

This map from ECCC’s Canada’s Changing Climate Report, published in 2019, shows the projections of warming days above 30 C from a low emissions scenario (RCP 2.6) to a high emissions scenario (RCP 8.5). (ECCC)

But will we be prepared?

“Just speaking of British Columbia here, the events we saw last summer indicate that we are not really prepared. This heat wave was much more extreme than any we have experienced in the past,” said said Flato.

“And as a result, many people died from this heatwave. Likewise, the flooding we experienced submerged much of the infrastructure we have – bridges, culverts, levees, etc. »

But it’s not all gloomy, Flato pointed out.

“We know what we have to do,” he said. “We need to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels…we need to start using energy from renewable sources, rather than non-renewable sources. There are a lot of things we can do to change that, and a lot of things what we can do to adapt to the changes that are already upon us.

“We have the tools at our disposal to change course, so it’s in our hands.”