Summer heat is arriving in Metro Vancouver on the anniversary of last year’s deadly heat dome, and while there’s no connection between the two, the first taste of summer weather is also the first test of BC’s revamped heat warning system.
Environment and Climate Change Canada issued special weather statements for much of the province on Wednesday, and while the agency described the conditions as “warmer-than-average temperatures,” officials were quick to point out there is no warning or alert in place, nor are any expected.
“This is going to be moderate, it’s not going to be extreme,” explained ECCC emergency planner Armel Castellan, who noted the heat dome saw record-breaking temperatures 20 degrees above normal.
“If we see an extreme event on the horizon, (we) can see them coming a week, sometimes 10 days ahead of time and we will be raising that alarm.”
The new “BC Provincial Heat Alert and Response System” announced earlier this month is essentially a revamping of the previous system, which various officials have acknowledged was poorly communicated and not understood during the heat dome, even by emergency response officials and public health personnel.
Castellan says while the incoming heat is not dangerous to the broader population and doesn’t meet the minimum criteria for temperature and duration, it is the first big test of the system in general.
“Absolutely it is. We worked extremely hard over the winter cold months in order to be ready for the start of the summer months,” he said. “(The system) has been scrutinized from a forecasting perspective, from a health perspective, and communication development.”
ELEVATED RISKS FOR SOME PEOPLE
While the conditions don’t meet the criteria for a “heat warning” – and certainly not for an “extreme heat emergency” – the province’s foremost expert on heat and public health points out the sudden rise in the mercury after such a cool spring shouldn’t be underestimated.
“When we are not acclimatized to these warmer temperatures yet, they have a slightly bigger impact on our bodies than when we’ve had a couple weeks of warmer weather, so we do expect people are going to feel this,” explained Sarah Henderson, scientific director of environmental health services at the BC Center for Disease Control.
“Everyone should be aware of how they’re feeling in the heat and take some steps to reduce the impacts of the heat, but this is not heat dome 2.0.”
She said that seniors’ bodies don’t regulate temperature as well, and people with disabilities, diabetics, those who are pregnant or have heart disease, schizophrenia, substance use disorder or are taking certain medications need to be extra careful.
“If you’ve had a heat-related injury last year or in prior years that always puts you at higher risk when it’s hot outside,” said Henderson, noting heat stroke in particular.
INDOORS THE GREATEST RISK
The recent findings from the coroner’s report into the heat dome found nearly everyone who died during the punishing heat was indoors; most were seniors and many lived alone.
Some didn’t die for weeks after the temperatures had started subsidizing.
Henderson urged neighbors and friends to check on those living alone and to watch out for symptoms including excessive sweating, dizziness, headache or discomfort. People experiencing those symptoms should be cooled down right away. Anyone experiencing severe symptomsincluding vomiting, confusion and other symptoms of heat stroke, should call 911.