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More heat waves ahead, study suggests

St. Albert must prepare for hotter future, say observers
3108 webHeatReport beat the heat CC 0738
Linden Lloyd of Sturgeon County doffs his cap to let the cold waters of St. Albert's splash pad take away some of the summer heat during a 30 C heat wave in St. Albert last year. St. Albert will experience three heat waves a year on average by 2080 due to current trends in greenhouse gas emissions, a new report suggests. CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

St. Albert will get about three more heat waves a year than it has historically due to global heating, a new study suggests – and local observers say we need to take steps now to adapt.

The University of Winnipeg’s Prairie Climate Centre put out a report this week on heat waves and health under climate change. The group, in co-operation with Environment Canada, used 24 climate models to predict changes in extreme heat across Canada in the next century as part of the Canadian Climate Atlas.

“Heat waves are projected to become longer, hotter, and more frequent across Canada,” said Danny Blair, senior climatologist with the centre, in a press release.

“This is something we need to be preparing for now, so current and future generations of Canadians continue to live healthy and prosperous lives.”

The climate atlas, which was updated as part of this report, shows that under current trends in greenhouse gas emissions, the Edmonton region will get about 3.4 heat waves a year by 2080, compared to the roughly 0.5 it’s received historically. (The atlas defined a heat wave as any period of plus-30 C weather that lasts three or more days.) Each heat wave would last 5.5 days on average (compared to about 1.4 historically), with the longest lasting about 8.3. The region would also see about a week’s worth of plus-34 C weather on average – weather we have almost never had historically.

Isn’t heat good?

This is what climate models have been predicting for a long time, said Joel Nodelman, a climate risk specialist and engineer in St. Albert. Global heating is shifting climate zones north – we’ll be more like Mendota Heights, Minn. in 2080, one study suggests – and our roads, homes, and power lines aren’t designed for those climates.

“We’ve got to prepare ourselves for that.”

If there are more heat waves ahead, Nodelman said St. Albert should expect its roads to fail more often, and will have to take steps to protect its road crews from hotter working conditions. We'll also need to ensure our power grid can handle the increased demand for air conditioning, and that we have plans and cooling shelters in place to keep the homeless from dying from heat stroke.

“This is not a joke. These things (heat waves) can kill," Nodelman said.

Extreme heat harms your cardiovascular, respiratory, and mental health, and is associated with more smog and domestic violence, the report found. About 66 people died during last year’s eight-day heat wave in Montreal.

More heat means more drought and more melting of the glaciers that provide our drinking water, said St. Albert environmental advisory committee chair Brad Peori. The report found that drought leads to dust and wildfire smoke, both of which harm your lungs; blackouts, as power plants don’t have the water they need to run; and potentially billions in economic losses.

The report found that the best way to reduce the risk of future heat waves was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through measures such as carbon taxes, renewable power, and active transportation. Many of these steps would also reduce air pollution and chronic diseases such as obesity.

“The more we allow our climate to change, the more extreme heat we will all face,” the report found.

The City of St. Albert is taking some initial steps by putting up solar panels and electrifying its bus fleet, and the EAC will review the city’s emissions targets later this year, Peori said. But heading off heat also requires us to address our personal carbon footprints by making our homes more energy efficient.

“We still have to buckle down and do our part,” Peori said.

The report is available at

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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