Devastating Effects of Heat Waves in Canada: 9 Facts

Rituraj Mili
Rituraj MiliOctober 25, 2022
Updated 2023/09/16 at 12:34 PM
heat waves
Image by Remaztered Studio from Pixabay /copyright 2016

Heat waves are common natural hazards that affect the entire world. The level of danger depends on the geographical location and environmental conditions prevailing in that particular region. Generally, heat waves are more common in equatorial zones. But as a direct consequence of global warming and greenhouse gas emissions, places far from the equator witness extreme heat waves during summer. Although Canada is quite far from the equator, the country has witnessed several heat events in recent history.

1. What Are Heat Waves?

Heat waves or heat events can be defined as unusual periods of hot weather. But the proper assessment of heat waves is more complex. It involves several aspects like environmental conditions of the particular region, heat indexes, effect of heat stress events on living organisms. The impact of heat waves on living organisms again varies depending upon several conditions: the frequency of extreme heat events in a given summer, the maximum temperature, the occurrence of heat events in the past, and the nightly temperature during heat events.

The frequency of heat waves affects living organisms directly. With frequent intense heat events in a single summer, the living sphere is exposed to dangerous heat almost regularly. The maximum temperature during a specific heat event is crucial, as exposure to high temperatures for even a small duration is harmful.

If a place has faced intense heat waves, the region is more likely to have already adapted to extreme heat conditions. So, with past heat events as lessons, heat wave-prone regions will have less impact on usual heat events. The temperature late at night during periods of intense heat is another factor. If the temperature is still high at night, the impact of heat waves grows exponentially.

2. What Causes Heat Waves in Canada?

Heat waves are more common in mid-latitudes. But with global warming and greenhouse gas emissions across the world, regions far from the equator are facing extreme heat events too. Heat waves in Canada are direct consequences of global warming and human influence on nature. Along with most European countries, Canada is a leading producer of greenhouse gas emissions. It leads to unusual environmental changes that cause natural disasters like heat waves.

heat waves
Image by Marcin from Pixabay /copyright 2020

3. Extreme Heat Wave Events in Canadian History

Based on recent historical records last century, it is evident that some regions of Canada: The Prairies, Southern Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River Valley region of Quebec face more dangerous heat events than other parts of the country. Some notable extreme heat events of the recent past are listed below.

  • July 1936: Heat wave in Ontario with 458 causalities.
  • August 1995: One of the longest recorded heat events (25th August to 3rd September). As a result of this event, the water in Lake Erie dried up and caused the death of millions of fish.
  • August 1995: Quebec experienced a record temperature of 60 degrees above normal.
  • Summer 1999: Intense heat waves resulted in wilting of crops, droughts, and wildfires in the Northwest Territories.

4. 9 Devastating Effects of Heat Waves in Canada

Like any other natural hazard, heat waves have several adverse effects too. Some of these effects, specifically on humans, livestock, and the environment of Canada, are as follows.

4.1) Effect on Human Health

Intense heat exposure can cause various complications in the human body. These include heat exhaustion, cramps, and non-fatal and fatal heat strokes. Other impacts on physiology include fatigue, dehydration, excessive sweating, and reduced ability to cool the body. Other impacts on humans are the indirect increase in risks of death from severe cardiovascular diseases, cerebrovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, and vascular lesions. Heat stress events can also make underlying diseases worse and lead to deaths. Early signs of dangerous heat-related illnesses can be tackled by simply moving to a cooler environment like shades and well-air-conditioned places. Consuming fluids also helps.

heat waves
Image by Gary G from Pixabay /copyright 2016

Older adults are more susceptible to dangerous heat-related illnesses. The effect of heat stress events on human health depends mainly on vulnerable populations’ location and settlement environments. People living in urban areas with inadequate air conditioning facilities and lesser vegetation are more likely to be affected by heat-related complications than others.

A new study on the heat index can explain the effects of heat events on humans. Heat index refers to the combination of temperatures and humidity. The impact of extreme heat waves is more dangerous on days with a high heat index.

4.2) Effect on Human Behavior

Heat stress events can cause some behavioural changes in humans too. Exposure to intense heat events can lead to irritation and anxiety in individuals. Some attempts have been made to link violent crimes with hot temperatures, as high temperatures lead to aggressive behaviours. But the authenticity of such theories is yet to be proved.

4.3) Effect on Agriculture

Heat waves lead to draughts that can affect agriculture immensely. Most of the plants in Canada are suitable for cooler temperatures. But with unusual heat events, they suffer a lot. Crops start wilting after the temperatures go over 40-degree Celsius. If the exposure continues for a long, the crops ultimately die out. Although extreme temperatures affect agricultural crops directly, the draughts with inadequate water availability damage the crops the most.

heat waves
Image by Pascal Bondis 💙💛 💙💛💙💛 from Pixabay /copyright 2022

4.4) Effect on Livestock

Like humans, the livestock in Canada is also affected adversely by heat waves. Extreme heat events affect activity, milk productivity, reproducibility, and animal survival. Animals experiencing extreme heat eats and ruminates less or eventually die if their body temperatures rise over 41-42 Degree Celsius. The cattle in Canada are more used to the cool climate, but they tend to lose weight with high temperatures during heat events. Fishes are sensitive to temperature changes. They end up dying when the temperatures rise over their comfort zone.

4.5) Effect on Environment

The effect of extreme heat waves on the environment is devastating. Extreme heat events over a long period can cause wildfires. Such disasters directly affect several ecosystems. The region’s wildlife gets affected, and a vast forest land gets destroyed. The aquatic ecosystems are greatly affected as slight temperature changes can lead to drastic circumstances.

heat waves
Image by Saiho from Pixabay /copyright 2016

4.6) Effect on Construction

Construction works depend on the particular areas’ geographical locations and climatic conditions. Canada is a land with harsh winters, thus, the infrastructure here is constructed to adapt to such natural forces. But with little research and understanding of the thermal tolerances of different materials, the impact of intense heat events can be dealt with easily. Infrastructures with proper air conditioning and ventilation facilities can provide great relief during heat waves for a vulnerable population.

4.7) Effect on Transportation

Transportation in Canada is mostly affected by winter rather than summer heat events. The effect of intense heat events is rather minimal, if not negligible.

4.8) Effect on Utilities

With the rise in the frequency of heat events in Canada, there has been an increase in the demand for utilities like bottled mineral waters and cold drinks during summer. The effect on utilities is directly linked to human needs as a rise in these utilities is more common in urban areas than in the countryside.

heat waves
Image by Hans from Pixabay /copyright 2012

4.9) Effect on Climate Change

It is the other way around. Heat waves are a product of climate change. Global warming across the world is estimated to increase in the coming future. With the rise in global warming, the frequency, duration, and levels of heat events will likely increase in Canada.

5. Ways to Tackle Heat Waves

With global warming projected to increase, it’s necessary to curb mitigation ways to adapt to intense heat events. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be the primary factor in reducing or slowing the effect of heat waves. As adaptive strategies, the health sector needs some improvements to tackle heat-related complications. The common population can cope with the heat by using artificial air-cooling systems and better housing types.

5.1) Environmental Modifications

Heat waves can be predicted to some extent. The areas with possible future heat events can be marked certain adaptative strategies can be executed. Better urban designs with ways to mitigate the intense heat events can be adopted. Better urban designs include installing better and improved air conditioning systems and housing types to adapt to higher temperatures.

Other environmental modifications include steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by checking the release of harmful pollutants by industries.

5.2) Air-Conditioning and Housing Types

Air conditioning systems are currently the best ways to deal with intense heat events. Installment of air conditioning systems is easier in urban areas than in other areas. The change in housing types, on the other hand, can take time and resources.

Cities like Montreal require more attention because, compared to other large cities like Toronto, Ottawa, and Winnipeg, the housing patterns there are old-fashioned. Thus, more efforts have to be carried out to bring modifications to Montreal.

heat waves
Image by Zoltan Matuska from Pixabay /copyright 2016

5.3) Hot Weather Warning Notifications

Hot weather public warnings before intense heat events can prove helpful for the general public. With prior warnings, the population can prepare for the upcoming hot weather in advance and reduce the chances of possible health complications.

5.4) Adaptations in Other Sectors

Adaptations in other sectors include implementing adaptative strategies in agriculture and livestock.

In agriculture, heat-drought-resistant crops need to be developed, and facilities to mitigate extreme temperatures should be made available. Such milestones can only be achieved through a combined effort of biologists and engineers. For livestock, cattle suitable for tropical climates can be raised to avoid the deaths of existing cattle types.

Canada is mostly known for harsh winters. But with an increase in global warming, the country has witnessed several intense heat events in the last century. Although many adaptative ways and strategies can be implemented, such natural hazards are expected to only increase with the current world scenario and human exploitation of nature.

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