The last five days in British Columbia, Canada, have made me Google the hottest places on earth and read about them. Not only that, but in British Columbia, we've also actually got to experience the life in some of these places, without the luxury of having an air-conditioner or even the good old desert cooler.
My name is Sumit Agarwal, and I have recently moved to British Columbia, Canada from New Delhi, India earlier this year. I live in Surrey, which is the second-largest city in the province, and a part of Metro Vancouver.
There were many reasons for why my family and I decided to make this place our home; one of them was definitely the weather. The lower mainland of British Columbia is known for its moderate temperatures. Not extremely cold in the winter, nice and pleasant in summer. The average high for this time of the year here is around 22 degrees Celsius, and the lows are around 11 degrees. That is the reason why most of the homes here do not have even a ceiling fan, leave alone air-conditioning.
A few weeks ago, a weather forecast warned that the last week of June would be extremely warm in British Columbia. How hot, no one knew. Two years ago, I was visiting Vancouver for work in the month of June, and I remembered that a couple of nights were not very comfortable due to the heat. I had eventually slept in my rental car, keeping its AC on. With that memory still very fresh, I ordered three tower fans for my home, one for each room, and I was sure this would make the summer easy.
By the middle of this month, though, the meteorologists started talking about some kind of a "heat dome", leading to massive a heatwave here. But the reality only sunk in in the third week of the month, when the weather app on our mobile phones started to reflect large numbers. The heatwave was to start from Friday, June 25, peak on Monday, June 28, and fizzle out by Wednesday, June 30. The five-day event would witness temperatures never seen in Canada's history.
Friday saw a high of 35, and the day actually went alright as there were back-to-back meetings at work. So, I didn't have much time to think about the heat. By the evening, I decided I had to get AC units or even a desert cooler. Along with a friend, I visited 5-6 large retail chains (Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, Canadian Tire, Superstore). They had all run out of everything. Not even a fan was available. I started feeling uncomfortable in the intervening night of Friday and Saturday. I woke up at around 2:30 am, sticky and sweaty. I kept tossing in bed until about four in the morning. Relief was found on my balcony, the breeze was nice (22 degrees). I pulled my couch from the living room onto the balcony and slept on it for a few hours.
Saturday was supposed to be warmer at about 37 degrees, but thankfully I had a class the entire day at a local college, and the classroom was airconditioned. So, it was pretty easy. However, the moment I got home, it felt really warm. Having floor-to-ceiling windows for the first time felt such a disadvantage. The entire house was pretty hot, and I felt really bad for my wife and three-year-old son. We immediately decided that we would spend the rest of the evening at a famous Italian restaurant, as we knew they have amazing air-conditioning. By the time we got back home, it was still warm at about 30 degrees. I installed all three tower fans in one room, and somehow, we managed to sleep for a few hours.
Sunday and Monday were the warmest days in this heatwave. Delhiites like me see these temperatures every year but the sun is really strong in Canada, it being much closer to the North Pole. The UV factor here is always in the range of seven. Vancouver is a coastal city along the Pacific Ocean, and the average humidity here is around 60% at this time. All these factors compounded together make the situation worse than Delhi.
We woke up early Sunday morning, and we thought this is enough. My wife Rashi and I decided to book a hotel for the next three nights. A friend's family also joined us. We were glad to have made that decision because just a few hours later, the majority of hotels across the province were sold out.
However, there was still one challenge. The check-in time at the hotel was 3:00 pm, and it was already turning out to be a very hot morning. After thinking for some time about where we could spend a few hours, we decided to hit a bowling alley. We were in slow motion there, as we really wanted to kill three to four hours in its cool space. On Saturday evening, we checked into our hotel rooms for the next three days. That was a huge respite. We all had a lot of sleep to catch up, and we wasted no time in getting to it, including my three-year-old son.
Finally, the heat dome over British Columbia has moved east, and lost some intensity as well, but the effects are going to be felt for a very long time. A small town in the interiors called Lytton consistently broke the record of hottest place in Canada for three days, reaching 49 degrees on Tuesday. At least 233 people lost their lives in Metro Vancouver alone due to this unusual weather event. There are now intense wildfires in different parts of the province, and the entire town of Lytton has been evacuated because of the raging fires there. Fraser River, the largest river in British Columbia, has breached the danger mark due to excessive melting of ice in glaciers and mountains.
Did someone say global warming is a hoax?
(Sumit Agarwal is Manager, Academic Advising at University Canada West in Vancouver.)
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