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

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

VANCOUVER — Geoff Scoates, founder of Vancouver’s Social Run Club, says the last thing he wants is for club members to get heatstroke. “I’m out there running right now and I’m already sweating a little bit,” Scoates said.

VANCOUVER — Geoff Scoates, founder of Vancouver’s Social Run Club, says the last thing he wants is for club members to suffer from heatstroke.

“I’m walking around outside now and I’m already sweating a little bit,” Coates said.

He said the group canceled its tour on Tuesday due to an ongoing heat wave that has broken temperature records in British Columbia.

“I think for most runners it’s tiring just thinking about running in this heat.”

Dozens of daily temperature records have been broken in BC since Sunday as a ridge of high pressure moves from west to east across Canada. On Tuesday, 43 areas broke or equaled historic heat records for July 9.

The Lytton area set a provisional new daily record of 42.5 °C, breaking the old record of 40.6 °C for July 9, set in 1975. Cache Creek, Lillooet and Kamloops also broke daily records with temperatures above 40 °C.

The only exception was the Bella Bella area, which set a daily minimum temperature record of 6.8 degrees Celsius, breaking the previous record of 7.1 degrees Celsius for July 9, set in 2011.

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 British Columbia also set 25 daily records for highest temperatures, with two records tied on Monday: from Whistler to Trail in the southeast, Smithers in the northwest and Campbell River on Vancouver Island.

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 taxing on your body to go running, which is 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 running race like this, we are saying that it is okay 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