A “pressure-cooker” heatwave that has broken temperature records in western Canada and the U.S. northwest claimed hundreds of lives over the past week.
Nearly 500 people died over the past five days in British Columbia, the worst-affected region in Canada.
“It is believed likely that the significant increase in deaths reported is attributable to the extreme weather BC has experienced and continues to impact many parts of our province,” British Columbia Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said on Wednesday.
Residents of the town of Lytton were evacuated Wednesday evening in the wake of a wildfire, triggered by Canada’s highest ever temperature recorded the previous day.
Canada’s all-time temperature record was broken on Tuesday in Lytton, with a high of 49.6C.
Despite the fact that “it’s in the province of British Columbia, it’s to the Rocky Mountains, the Glacier National Park, and yet we’re seeing temperatures which are more typical of the Middle East or North Africa,” said Clare Nullis, spokesperson for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
“An exceptional and dangerous heatwave is breaking in northwestern United States of America and western Canada; this is obviously a part of the world which is more accustomed to cool weather,” she added. Nullis warned that temperatures are likely to reach as high as 45C during day time in the coming days. “So that’s a very long spell, with extremely warm nights in between.”
Nullis explained that the extreme heat is caused by “an atmospheric blocking pattern” which has led to a “heat dome” trapped by low pressure either side.
Record-levels of temperatures were recorded in Portland, Oregon (46.6C), and in Seattle, Washington (42.2C), according to the National Weather Service.
63 casualties were reported in Oregon and 16 others in Washington.
The current heatwave follows another intensely hot period less than two weeks ago that baked the US desert Southwest and California.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday convened a meeting with Governors from Western States, Cabinet and agency officials, and energy sector partners to discuss ways to strengthen prevention, preparedness and response efforts for this wildfire season, which is on track to outpace last season.
Biden announced a $37 million grant award to California to support fire mitigation efforts as part of FEMA’s new Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program, the White House said.
Vice President Kamala Harris asked the Governors what additional support and resources they need and what immediate actions can be taken by the Federal government to protect communities from wildfires, help them deal with drought conditions, and improve emergency preparedness.
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