British Columbia

B.C.'s Okanagan needs to prepare for 40 C heat waves, report warns

According to projections from the Irreversible Extreme Heat report published this week by the University of Waterloo, climate change could push the maximum temperature in the city of Kelowna to 40 C by 2051, from 35 C between 1976 and 2005.

University of Waterloo researchers say region needs to prepare for heat waves as recurring natural disasters

Children, adults in Kelowna, B.C., are pictured enjoying the hot summer weather in August 2021. An environmental study published by the University of Waterloo has identified the city among the top 10 metropolitan areas in Canada with the highest risk of experiencing extreme heat from 2051 to 2080. (Winston Szeto/CBC)

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A recent national environmental study is ringing the alarm about the risk of extreme heat in B.C.'s Okanagan region by the mid-21st century.

According to projections from the Irreversible Extreme Heat report published this week by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, climate change could push the maximum temperature in Kelowna to 40 C by 2051, from 35 C between 1976 and 2005.

The duration of heat waves is also expected to grow, with the average heat wave in Kelowna lasting about six days before 2005, but anticipated to nearly double to more than 11 days by 2051. 

The report, based on consultation with 60 experts across Canada, warns that the longer extreme heat sticks around, the more dangerous it becomes. Last summer's heat wave killed nearly 600 people across B.C.; 526 of them died within a one-week span at the end of June 2021.

The study lists Kelowna as one of Canada's top 10 metropolitan areas — and the only metropolitan area in B.C. — most exposed to extreme heat from 2051 to 2080. Other big cities on the list include Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg and Regina. 

The study also identifies smaller communities in the B.C. Interior, including Kamloops, Vernon, Penticton and Creston as vulnerable to extreme heat by the middle of this century.

Addressing heat waves

The report lays out dozens of things individuals, businesses and governments can do to ease the threat posed by extreme heat, including better emergency planning and heat warning notification systems.

Sandra Follack, emergency program co-ordinator of the Regional District of Central Okanagan, says the B.C. Interior has been used to high summer temperatures for many years but the heat wave of last year was unprecedented, and she agrees with some of the recommended actions from the report.

"There are definitely things that we need to do that have been recognized as we are still learning in our region how the effects of the extreme heat coincide with what that report says," Follack said Friday on CBC's Daybreak South.

The report suggests municipal and regional authorities conduct outreach campaigns to encourage residents to take preventive measures against the risks of extreme heat. 

Follack says more actions need to be taken to make people aware of local cooling centres and other air-conditioned spaces, as many public messages about their availability didn't reach the community last summer.

"Reaching out to communities to say in the event that your apartment doesn't have air conditioning … you need to get some relief," she said. 

Follack says while she cannot speak on behalf of municipalities, she agrees with the report's recommendation for municipalities to use their emergency services to assist vulnerable populations, such as seniors and people living with homelessness, during heat waves.

"Every community is responsible for ensuring every citizen … [is] safe, and then we support them when the capacity is beyond their ability to support anymore," she said.

With files from Daybreak South, Zameer Karim and the Canadian Press


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