'Naked on my back porch': Albertans doing what it takes to stay cool in historic heat wave

From cold showers to makeshift air conditioners, Albertans are opening their wallets and their DIY handbooks in a bid to beat the heat coming from what meteorologists have called a heat dome, a phenomenon expected to repeatedly shatter high-temperature records in the coming days. 

'It's just heat, heat and more heat' says Environment Canada senior climatologist

As extreme temperatures take hold in an unprecedented heat wave across Western Canada, Albertans are hunkering down in air conditioning or getting creative, using fans over ice as makeshift cooling devices. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

From cold showers to makeshift air conditioners, Albertans are opening their wallets and their DIY handbooks in a bid to beat the heat. 

A blistering heat wave in Western Canada is bringing dangerously hot temperatures to the province. And that has companies in the business of keeping people cool struggling to keep up with demand. 

Ridges of high pressure hovering over the Prairies are creating what meteorologists have called a heat dome, a phenomenon that is expected to repeatedly shatter high-temperature records in the coming days. 

"It's punishing," said David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada.  "It's just heat, heat and more heat." 

WATCH | Edmontonians are finding ways to beat the heat:

You think you’re hot? Try being a roofer

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Roofers in Edmonton are feeling the heat as Jessica Reid, from Reid's Roofing, explains. (Note: the crews featured in the video are not Reid's Roofing contractors.)

The province is set to be the country's hot spot Tuesday with temperatures in the high 30s. Temperatures are expected to peak Wednesday, hitting 40 C in most parts of the province.

Albertans eagerly waiting for that heat dome to burst are now bartering for air conditioners, turning to the internet for hot weather hacks and rushing to construct backyard pools.

Searching for ways to keep cool 

"The demand is insane," said Randale Campbell, an office manager for Edmonton-based Cam-Mac Pools & Installations.

"Everyone's just trying to look for a way to cool down." 

Campbell said the company was already busy due to increased demand from Albertans keen to spend money they saved by not travelling during the pandemic. She said the company is booking installations well into next year.

Since the heat wave began, Campbell said would-be customers have been calling the office every day with desperate requests for immediate pool installations. 

Kids cool off in the pool outside Edmonton's city hall as the heat set in Saturday. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

"We have people like, 'If I could get you to come and dig it right now, I would.' … We wish."

The added demand has been especially hard to meet due to concerns about working outside. Campbell said employees are starting their shifts before dawn to avoid the worst of the heat.

"That's the tricky part. Everyone's like, 'Your job is so great during this time,' but none of us get to go swimming."

As the heat set in over the weekend, store shelves once filled with fans and air-conditioning units were left bare.

Social media has been inundated with tips on how to build "swamp coolers" — makeshift devices that use fans and ice to cool air by evaporating water — and other tactics to survive without proper air conditioning.

Some have resorted to ice packs or ice baths.

Others are promoting nudity.

One Edmontonian admitted on Reddit that they had resorted to putting up privacy blankets and "well-placed planters" on their deck so they could sit outside in the buff.

"I'm naked on my back porch and I've never been more comfortable," read the post. "Y'all should try it." 

Keeping cool during the heat wave in Edmonton

2 years ago
Duration 1:20
Kiddie pools are sold out, AC units are hard to come by, and temperatures are still expected to rise — here’s how Edmontonians are coping with a historic heat wave.

Record air conditioning sales

Steve Kerr, an Edmonton-based regional sales manager at Service Experts Heating and Air Conditioning, said AC units have been selling like hotcakes.

"We're actually experiencing record air conditioning sales right now," Kerr said. 

"It's probably our busiest season that I can ever remember in my 20 years."

Albertans who worked in air-conditioned office buildings before the pandemic are struggling to handle the heat in their home offices.

"Much of what we're experiencing right now is a lot of people almost panicking," said Kerr, noting there's also a backlog of people waiting to have their units serviced. 

"All of a sudden we're entering into the biggest heat wave ever and there's a real global shortage of supplies that they use to make these air conditioners," he said. 

"If you have an air conditioner, consider having it looked at before it breaks down." 

Environment Canada has cautioned that the warm spell will be unrelenting. Overnight highs will remain between 15 and 25 C.

The all-time record for hottest temperature in Edmonton is 37.4 C. set in June 1937. The city is expected to shatter that record this week, possibly more than once. 

Temperatures will only begin to drop next week.

How are you beating (or at least surviving) the heat? Send your photos to us at yourphotos@cbc.ca.


Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.