Heat health risks in spotlight as temperature records fall in British Columbia

Heat health risks in spotlight as temperature records fall in British Columbia

Dozens of daily temperature records have been broken in British Columbia since Sunday as a high pressure system moves from west to east across Canada.

Environment Canada reported that some areas, including Metro Vancouver, will experience cooler temperatures Tuesday evening, but inland areas will remain warm.

Health experts are warning people to be careful when exercising in the heat and to avoid going outside when air pollution is highest.

Metro Vancouver is currently under an air quality advisory due to ground level smog. This advisory will remain in effect until further notice.

Dr. Michael Koehle of the University of BC School of Kinesiology said exercising during a heat wave carries the risk of exercise-related heat illness, ranging from “severe and dangerous” heat stroke to milder heat exhaustion with symptoms such as headache, fatigue and dizziness.

“Normally you can solve that by stopping exercise, cooling down and drinking some cool drinks,” Koehle says.

He said it was important to check the humidex level, which takes into account both temperature and humidity, before exercising outdoors. Most people tend to feel uncomfortable when the humidex is above 30, he said.

Koehle said that unlike smoke-related pollution, the smog now hanging over Metro Vancouver is the result of ozone, a gas created on warm days when sunlight reacts with nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds.

Ozone can irritate the lungs, causing people to cough, become short of breath or have a tight chest, Koehle said.

He said smog can be highest on warm, sunny days between midday and early evening, with air quality improving in the early morning or late evening.

A review by Environment Canada shows that 25 daily records for highest temperatures have been set in British Columbia, with two records tied on Monday: from Whistler to Trail in the southeast, Smithers in the northwest and Campbell River on Vancouver Island.

Lytton was a hot spot with a daily high of 42.4 degrees Celsius on Monday, breaking the old record of 39.4 degrees Celsius set in 1952.

In Pemberton, north of Whistler, the mercury reached 39.1 degrees Celsius, while in Osoyoos the new record was set at 39.7 degrees Celsius.

By 2pm on Tuesday afternoon, the temperature in Lytton had already risen above 40 degrees Celsius.

According to Environment Canada, dozens of heat warnings remain in effect for much of central and southern British Columbia and the northeastern corner of the province.

Temperatures will drop to more seasonal levels Tuesday night across Metro Vancouver, inland parts of the north and central coasts, through Whistler and the Sunshine Coast, and onto Vancouver Island, the meteorologist said.

In Fort Nelson, British Columbia, where persistent drought fueled the threat of early spring wildfires, the forecast called for temperatures to drop from 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) on Wednesday to 74 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius) on Friday and Saturday.

But it will remain warmer in the Fraser Valley, with Abbotsford forecasting temperatures of 27 to 29 degrees Celsius over the coming week, while Kamloops will see temperatures remain in the 30s and 40s over the weekend.

The Hudson’s Bay store in downtown Vancouver remained closed Tuesday after being kept locked during the weekend heat. A statement from the company said the well-being of customers and staff was a top priority and that the store’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems were being maintained.

Coates, who has run 11 marathons in Boston, Chicago, Tokyo and Berlin, said it’s fine to exercise in warm weather, but people should be aware of the conditions.

“It can be very stressful on your body to go running and that is one of the reasons why we are canceling the event,” Coates said.

He said canceling Tuesday’s race in Vancouver was not just about the immediate risk, but also about sending a message.

“If we cancel a race like this, it sets the tone that it’s OK to listen to your body and not go out when the weather is extreme,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2024.

Nono Shen and Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press