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'Once-in-a-Millennium' Heat Dome or Man-Made Causes? Why Hundreds Are Dying as Canada Bakes in Hot Spell

Two people jump from a pedestrian bridge at Lake Union Park into the water during a heat wave hitting the Pacific Northwest, Sunday. (AP)

Two people jump from a pedestrian bridge at Lake Union Park into the water during a heat wave hitting the Pacific Northwest, Sunday. (AP)

When was the last time Dubai was cooler than North America and Canada? A heat dome triggered by man-made causes has made that possible.

At least 134 people have died suddenly since Friday in Canada’s Vancouver area, according to figures released by the city police department and the Royal Canadian Mounted police. The Vancouver Police Department alone said it had responded to more than 65 sudden deaths since Friday, with the vast majority “related to the heat." As Canada bakes in an unprecedented hot spell, here’s how the condition developed and how long it will last:

How did more than 130 people suddenly die?

The deaths came as Canada set a new all-time high temperature record for a third day in a row Tuesday, reaching 121 degrees Fahrenheit (49.5 degrees Celsius) in Lytton, British Columbia, about 155 miles (250 kilometers) east of Vancouver, the country’s weather service, Environment Canada, reported.

“Vancouver has never experienced heat like this, and sadly dozens of people are dying because of it," police sergeant Steve Addison told AFP.

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What is causing this unprecedented spike in temperature?

Experts suggest that besides years of man-made climatic erosions in the ecological balance, there is a once-in-a-millennium heat dome behind the weather phenomenon.

What exactly is a heat dome?

According to a report by CBC, a heat dome is a essentially a mountain of warm air built into a very wavy jet stream, with extreme undulations. When the jet stream — a band of strong wind in the upper levels of the atmosphere — becomes very wavy and elongated, pressure systems can pinch off and become stalled or stuck in places they typically would not be.

In this case, a ridge of high pressure, which is the heat dome, has become lodged in the Pacific Northwest. It is acting as a block in the atmosphere, not allowing the weather to move.

How is this causing high temperatures?

Areas of high pressure, like heat domes, have sinking air. This compresses the air on the ground and through compression it heats the air column. In addition, winds are moving downslope from the mountains downward into cities like Seattle and Portland; that downward motion causes heating as well.

How long will this last?

Experts opine that the high temperatures should ease within this week.

Why is it referred to as ‘once-in-a-millennium? Will it not occur for another 1000 years?

Under normal circumstances, statisticians say, this phenomenon would occur a once-in-a-1,000-years. However, chances of this happening sooner are high due to artificial heating of the environment due to man-made reasons.

How have we contributed to this? What does the future hold?

It is primarily climate change that is causing this record-setting temperatures to become more frequent. Globally, the decade to 2019 was the hottest recorded, and the five hottest years have all occurred within the last five years.

Temperatures in the US Pacific Northwest cities of Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington reached levels not seen since record-keeping began in the 1940s: 115 degrees Fahrenheit in Portland and 108 in Seattle Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

Vancouver on the Pacific coast has for several days recorded temperatures above 86 degrees Fahrenheit (or almost 20 degrees above seasonal norms). Inland along the Fraser River delta, due to high humidity, climatologists said it felt like 111 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday.

“We are in the midst of the hottest week British Columbians have ever experienced, and there are consequences to that, disastrous consequences for families and for communities," British Columbia Premier John Horgan told a news conference.

The extreme heat, combined with intense drought, also created the perfect conditions for several fires to break out over the weekend, and one blaze on the California-Oregon border had already burned some 1,500 acres (600 hectares) by Monday morning.

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first published:June 30, 2021, 14:52 IST