The Current

Heat wave scorching Europe could become new normal for Canada, expert warns

As parts of the world face sweltering June temperatures, an extreme weather expert warns the spectre of heat waves in Canada will jump significantly over the next two decades.  

By 2040, Canada will roast in a heat wave every 2 years, says Blair Feltmate

Tourists are 'exhausted' by the heat and have been refreshing themselves in public fountains throughout Rome, says veteran tour guide Patrizia Sfligiotti. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)
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As parts of the world face sweltering June temperatures, an extreme weather expert warns the spectre of heat waves in Canada will jump significantly over the next two decades.  

Each summer Canada currently experiences about 20 days where temperatures exceed 30 C. According to Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Change at the University of Waterloo, that number will more than triple by 2040 — hitting 65 days.

"We will experience one heat wave every second summer," he told The Current's guest host Megan Williams, noting that authorities define a heat wave where the temperature hovers at or above 30 C for three consecutive days.

"We have to prepare rapidly for extreme heat," he continued.

A woman puts a bottle with frozen water over her head as she walks past the Colosseum in Rome on June 27. The Civil Protection service planned to distribute water to people at risk during the hottest hours of the day. (Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press)

Right now, brutally hot weather is gripping swaths of western and central Europe — setting new temperature records in countries like Germany and the Czech Republic — and forcing one tour guide in Rome to modify her trips. 

Patrizia Sfligiotti, a former archeologist, has been guiding tours through Rome's top ancient arteries and sites for more than 20 years. She told Williams that her clients "can't cope with the heat."

Tourists are "exhausted" and have been trying to cool themselves down using public fountains across Rome, she explained. Meanwhile at the Vatican, elderly and infirm pilgrims watched Pope Francis's weekly audience on large screens in an air-conditioned auditorium as members of the clergy held umbrellas to ward of the sun's inferno-like gaze.

While leading a group of tourists through the Roman Colosseum earlier this week, Sfligiotti says she perched them on a large boulder in the shade for three hours as she went through the history of the famed 2,000-year-old structure. 

"We have to be flexible," she told Williams from the Italian capital.

At that time, authorities warned that temperatures could top 40 C in parts of continental Europe as a blast of torrid air moves north from Africa, bringing an unusually early summer heat wave.

Blair Feltmate is the head of the Intact Centre on Climate Change at the University of Waterloo. (uwaterloo.ca)

But increasing extreme weather events, such as heat waves, are not isolated to Europe. 

In recent years, temperatures have been climbing across Canada.

Hot days are now exceeding the normal number every quarter since the winter of 2015, according to an index compiled by the Canadian Institute of Actuaries last year. 

Feltmate points to a variety of measures, he says, authorities and Canadians should invest in to prepare for a hot future. They include:

  • Constructing buildings with built-in cooling centres.
  • Working to retain tree canopies to shadow the dark pavement used on roadways.
  • Painting roofs white in order to reflect the sun's rays, rather than absorb them.
  • Developing community watch programs to check on vulnerable people such as the elderly, the homeless and those with pre-existing medical conditions.

However, a key change the federal government needs to make, he explains, is implementing a standard for heat-risk mitigation to address a wide-range of changes, from the physicality of building operations to behavioural adaptations.

"We really need to think this out. We need to think it out rapidly." 


Written by Amara McLaughlin with files from CBC News. Produced by Ines Colabrese and Julie Crysler.

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