All the Apocalyptic Things That Happened Because of the Heat Wave

Hundreds dead, marine mammal life decimated, and a town burned to the ground are all consequences of the sweltering heat in Canada and the U.S.
Manisha Krishnan
Toronto, CA
July 8, 2021, 2:11pm
Flames engulfing Lytton, B.C.
The town of Lytton, B.C. burned to the ground following a heat wave. Photo by Getty Images

North America recorded its hottest temperature ever in June—and the result is many more deaths. Dead people, dead animals, and dying or struggling plants. 

The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service reported that temperatures in the continent last month were 1.2 C higher than the average from 1991 to 2020. 

Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, told the Guardian greenhouse gas emissions from cars, farms, and industry are increasing the frequency with which we’ll see these types of temperature spikes in North America. In other words, humans are responsible. 

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“In the present-day climate, getting an extremely hot June is common and is likely to occur twice in three decades. However, an analysis from many computer models suggests that by the end of the century these extreme temperatures are more likely than not,” he said.

Hundreds of people in both the U.S. and Canada have died as a result of the heat wave. The situation is so extreme that more scientists are now studying “wet bulb” conditions. As previously reported by Motherboard, wet bulb is the temperature at which humidity and heat are so strong that the human body can no longer cool itself with sweat, potentially leading to deaths. 

In late June, the town of Lytton, in the interior of B.C., broke national heat records three days in a row, with the highest temperature reaching 49.6 C on June 29; dozens of other communities broke daily heat records, with temperatures in the high 30s and 40s.

Zafar Adeel, executive director of the Pacific Water Research Centre at Simon Fraser University, told the Vancouver Sun the province should expect more intense and frequent heat waves. 

Heat waves can result in “cascading hazards”—triggering other extreme weather events, including flash flooding and wildfires, Adeel said. 

Here are some of the most extreme events that followed the heat wave. 

Hundreds dead 

In a recent news release, Lisa Lapointe, B.C.’s chief coroner, said there were 719 deaths reported in the province from June 25 to July 1. Lapointe said the number is preliminary, and will likely increase. 

“It is believed likely the extreme weather B.C. has experienced in the past week is a significant contributing factor to the increased number of deaths,” Lapointe said. 

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She said that’s three times the normal number of deaths that would be reported in the same time period—suggesting that nearly 500 deaths are attributable to the heat. 

In Oregon, the state medical examiner reported more than 100 people had died due to excessive heat by the end of June, while Maricopa County, Arizona, was investigating 53 heat-related deaths.

Town burns down 

After setting temperature records, most of Lytton, which has a population of about 250 people and sits at the confluence of the Thompson and Fraser rivers, burned to the ground. On June 30, police went door to door evacuating people. Lytton Mayor Jan Polderman said it was about 15 minutes between when he smelled smoke and flames engulfing homes.

“It was everywhere. You’re in a bit of a panic because you’re wondering what to do next. Do you keep going? Do you turn around? Your life is on the line at that point,” he told Global News. 

Lytton resident Jeff Chapman told CBC News he watched helplessly as a power line crashed into a trench where his parents were hiding on their property. Afterwards, he saw their charred remains. 

Following the blaze, a number of residents were unaccounted for and cellphone service was down because cellular towers had burned down, making it harder to track who was safe. 

Wildfire officials have said the blaze was believed to be caused by humans, while some have raised the possibility that a CN train sparked it. 

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In the wake of the heat wave, B.C. is battling more than 180 active wildfires. 

Mass marine life cooks to death

One B.C. researcher said the heat wave has resulted in an estimated 1 billion marine mammals, including mussels, clams, and starfish, dying. 

Chris Harley, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia, told CBC News shoreline temperatures along the Salish Sea coastline exceeded 50 C. That heat, combined with low tides midday, resulted in invertebrate sea animals essentially cooking to death, he said. 

Harley said he and his team began taking stock of the marine life in West Vancouver and on the Sunshine Coast after noticing the stench on the beaches due to the dead animals. 

"Eventually, we just won't be able to sustain these populations of filter feeders on the shoreline to be anywhere near the extent that we're used to," he said. 

Trees already shedding leaves 

Many B.C. trees have seen their leaves turn brown or shed completely, potentially as a result of the heat wave and lack of rainfall. 

A scientist told CBC News cities need to be proactive about increasing their watering efforts, and that residents can also help out. Younger trees are particularly vulnerable to drought. 

City of Vancouver arborist Joe McLeod told CBC News that giving trees larger beds of soil will also help combat the issue. 

“These climate impacts are happening a lot faster than, I think, the City of Vancouver has been prepared for,” McLeod said. 

The city is aiming to increase its tree canopy cover—which provide cool—by 30 percent by 2050. 

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