Number of deaths recorded during B.C.’s heat wave up to 808, coroners say

VANCOUVER — The number of deaths recorded across British Columbia during the province’s recent record-breaking heat wave has climbed to 808, according to coroners.

Those deaths were recorded from June 25 through July 1, as a brutal heat dome sent temperatures soaring to dangerous highs in many communities.

The deadliest day was Tuesday, June 29 – the same day the Village of Lytton experienced 46.9 C heat, setting a new Canadian record and topping the hottest temperature ever registered in Las Vegas.

The B.C. Coroners Service said 300 deaths were recorded that day alone.

Officials have yet to confirm exactly how many of the 808 deaths were directly related to heat, but the average number of deaths reported during the same period over the previous five years was 198. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe has noted many of the deaths involved seniors who lived alone in poorly ventilated homes.

“All deaths reported are currently being investigated to establish cause and manner of death,” reads a message on the BCCS website. “Data is preliminary and subject to change.”

The government’s response to the heat wave has been criticized as lacking, though officials, including Premier John Horgan, have stressed the “unprecedented” nature of the weather event.

The province has promised to study the heat wave and response in the hopes of avoiding a tragedy on the same scale next time temperatures spike.

World Weather Attribution, a group of international climate scientists, has determined heat waves similar to the one experienced this year in Western Canada and the U.S. Pacific Northwest remain “rare or extremely rare,” but the group has cautioned they will become more and more likely as global temperatures rise.

An initial analysis, which has yet to be peer reviewed but is said to have used “peer-reviewed methods,” found the 2021 heat wave would have been “virtually impossible without human-caused climate change.”

World Weather Attribution said the heat wave likely would never have happened at the outset of the Industrial Revolution, and the chances of it happening in today’s climate remain at about one in 1,000 – but that if global temperatures rise to 2 C above pre-industrial levels, as many experts predict will happen in the 2040s, such heat waves could be expected every five to 10 years.

“Our results provide a strong warning: our rapidly warming climate is bringing us into uncharted territory that has significant consequences for health, well-being, and livelihoods,” the group wrote. “Adaptation and mitigation are urgently needed to prepare societies for a very different future.”

Read the group’s full findings on the World Weather Attribution website.

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