Hundreds of people have died due to record heatwave in the Pacific Northwest – the region of the US and Canada bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west. As many as 700 lives reportedly have been lost in Canada’s westernmost province British Columbia alone, while over 100 wildfires were reported as late on Thursday owing to the rising temperature in the region setting off evacuations and alerts. Raging wildfires completely decimated Lytton, a tiny village in British Columbia, forcing authorities to move around a thousand inhabitants to safety, while at least two people reportedly died trying to take refuge in a hole in the ground during the fire fury.
Similar pictures emerged in the United States. Till Thursday, the state officials in Oregon claimed the deaths of at least 62 people due to the heatwaves. 13 reportedly succumbed to heat in the Seattle area in Washington state, while hundreds of firefighters battled against several wildfires in the forests of far northern California, where many communities have been forced to evacuate.
In a region accustomed to mild summer temperatures, temperatures reached a record 116oF in Portland in the United States, while Lytton – in Canada’s British Columbia – mercury reached 121.1oF before the wildfire began.
Heat dome behind heatwave in Canada & US
What has caused the rise in temperature and the heatwaves in the Pacific Northwest? According to weather experts, a vast heat dome enveloping western Canada and the north-western US increased the temperature in the region producing a flurry of wildfires in recent days.
What is a heat dome? It is essentially a bubble of high pressure in the atmosphere that traps hot air evaporating from the sea surface and pushes it down toward the ground increasing temperature and scorching the region.
Heat dome is a rare event but it has yet again triggered the debate over climate change. Because many believe global warming recently has made many rare events become more common. Frequent and larger heat waves along with rising hot months per year in the United States are the dire warning signals that have been largely ignored.
People in Canada rush to cooling stations to beat heatwave
When temperature soared in the Pacific Northwest, people rushed to beaches and nearby ice-cold mountain creeks to beat the heat. In British Colombia, people took shelter in city-run cooling stations, at sprinklers and water misters set up around town as many houses do not have air conditioning due to the moderate climate of the area.
With the heatwave refusing to abate, the authorities expect the death count to go high, the real figure may even take longer to determine with more data pouring in with the exact cause of deaths.
While Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went into an emergency huddle with the country’s incident response group to discuss ways to combat the crisis, US President Joe Biden blamed climate change for the predicament in the Pacific Northwest when he met governors from western states.
When and how heatwave becomes fatal?
What causes deaths during heat waves? Human bodies generally acclimatise to both high and low temperatures. But it needs time to adapt to the change of temperature. Sudden heat waves are dangerous because our bodies don’t get enough time to adapt.
High overnight temperatures may make the situation more fatal. Because, usually with the temperature dropping during the night after a sizzling day, the core body heat of the humans also cools down, on the other hand, no respite from sweating means higher dehydration leading to muscular and enzymatic inactivity that can shut down internal organs.