Recent severe heat wave came years earlier than expected: Sask. climate scientist

Winters are already warmer than they used to be, and on average summers will be warmer in the future, according to Dave Sauchyn, a climate scientist and professor at the University of Regina.

Climate models hadn't predicted heat wave this severe until years later

Dave Sauchyn said the heat waves are a real wake-up call and that he expects some scientists will do 'attribution studies' to determine how much worse this heat wave was as a result of climate change. (Submitted by Dave Sauchyn)

Saskatchewan wasn't expected to experience a heat wave as severe as the recent one so soon. 

"Climate models have been predicting this kind of weather, but you know later in the 2020s or a decade or two from now," said Dave Sauchyn, director at the University of Regina's Prairie adaptation research collaborative and a professor of geography and environmental studies.

A heat dome that started at the west coast and moved in to the Prairies caused provinces to break temperature records.

Thirty five communities in Saskatchewan broke temperature records, and the heat likely contributed to 719 sudden deaths in British Columbia. The heat wave also broke the highest temperature ever recorded in all of Canada, with a measurement of 49.6 C in Lytton, B.C., according to Environment Canada.

Sauchyn said it's not going to be terribly hot every year in the future, but on average summers will be warmer and the winters are already warmer than they used to be. 

LISTEN | Dave Sauchyn spoke with Peter Mills on CBC Saskatchewan's The Morning Edition 
A Saskatchewan climate scientist says this past week's heat wave across the country is a real wake-up call. Guest host Peter Mills talks with the director at the University of Regina's Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative, David Sauchyn, about what the heat could mean for our province's future. 7:12

Sauchyn said a heat wave is defined as two or more days with a high above 32 C or a low above 16 C.

He said the climate has warmed by two degrees in Western Canada since the 20th century, meaning the threshold temperature for a heat wave will be reached more often. 

He also said that this heat wave is a weather event, so it can't be directly attributed to climate change, but that climate warming was a factor. 

WATCH | CBC's Fiona Odlum explains what makes a true heat wave 

What is a true heat wave?

5 months ago
We can see some extreme temperatures on the Prairies in the summer — just like in the frigid winter. On average, the Prairies get 15 days of over 30 C weather. But what is a true heat wave? CBC weather host Fiona Odlum explains. 1:27

Heat waves are quite common in Saskatchewan, but the intensity of this heat wave was different, according to Terri Lang, a meteorologist for Environment and Climate Change Canada. 

"You always hope when you see a forecast like that that it's going to be wrong, because you don't want to see these types of extremes," she said. 

Lang said normally the heat waves happen in July or August, and when they happen in late June the sun is at it's highest angle in the sky which contributes to more intense heating — especially in Northern Saskatchewan. The sun is up for a higher period of time, because the days are a longer.

She also said that we can't say definitively that the heat wave was a result of the climate change, because in order to identity that there would need to be a pattern of instances. 

With files from The Morning Edition 


  • A previous version of this story stated Lytton set a new Canadian record with a temperature of 46.6 C. In fact, it was 49.6 C.
    Jul 06, 2021 5:24 PM CT


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