UBC experts weigh in on heat wave hitting B.C.

The recent heat wave hitting British Columbia has already broken 64 temperature records, but this is just the beginning of its impact.

In Metro Vancouver, temperatures have been climbing, and this past week has seen highs of 30°C.

“Things are looking right now what they would look like in August so we’re not quite sure what July and August are going to bring with these high temperatures,” said Sarah Henderson, assistant professor at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health.

According to Henderson, a heat wave such as this can pose many health risks, the most concerning being death. Death rates in the population tend to increase with the high temperatures and other heat-related conditions such as heat stress and heatstroke are also induced by hot weather.

“There’s usually an uptake in the number of emergency department visits or concerns related to heat so we want the population to stay cool,” said Henderson. “For the general public, the number one thing is to drink plenty of water.”

The extreme temperature is also adversely affecting the environment.

“The most obvious is grass having gone brown,” said John Innes, Dean of Forestry at UBC. “Anything with shallow roots is likely to be suffering. Trees will last longer because they have deeper rooting systems, so they get down to where the water is still available, but even those are beginning to show signs of stress.”

The heat wave also marks an early start to forest fire season in B.C.

“Where we have dryness, heat and wind, that’s where we get problems,” said Innes. “We’ve also been having dry thunderstorms, storms with lightning and no rain, and that’s particularly bad because it sets sparks off and there’s no rain to compensate.”

These fires can have far reaching effects that extend beyond the burning forests. “Forest fires’ smoke can cause some of the worst air quality that British Columbians will ever experience,” said Henderson.

Areas that thrive from wine production may be one of the few beneficiaries of the heatwave.

“The best [grape]vines grow in dry areas and warmer areas,” said Innes. “I think it’s going to be quite a good year for wine.”