Record-smashing heat gripped much of the western US and Canada on Monday, forcing schools and Covid-19 testing centres to close and causing the postponement of an Olympic qualifying event. Forecasters warned of worse to come.
In the town of Lytton in British Columbia, the temperature on Sunday eclipsed Canada’s record high, with the mercury touching 46.6°C.
"It's the first time it's been this hot," Ahmed Habib, owner of 2 Rivers Inn in Lytton, told The National.
“Many people are outside sweating. I went out to the police station yesterday and everyone outside was sweating.”
Mr Habib said the local tourism industry, which includes outdoor activities such as whitewater rafting, might take a hit “because people can’t go out and tour, they can only stay inside”.
In a region unaccustomed to sweltering heat, stores reportedly sold out of portable air conditioners and fans, while cities opened emergency cooling centres and outreach workers handed out bottles of water and hats.
Several Covid-19 vaccination clinics were shut and schools announced they would close on Monday.
“A prolonged, dangerous and historic heatwave will persist through this week,” Environment Canada said.
It forecast temperatures near 40°C in several regions.
The agency issued alerts for British Columbia, Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
Farther south, in the US city of Eugene, Oregon, a temperature of 43.3°C forced organisers to postpone the final day of US Olympic athletics trials. Afternoon events were moved to the evening.
Because of climate change, record-setting temperatures are becoming more frequent. Globally, the decade to 2019 was the hottest registered, and the past five years were the warmest on record.
On Sunday in Seattle, the temperature hit 40°C, surprising residents not used to hot weather.
Doug Farr, manager of the city’s weekly Ballard Farmers Market, said the site had to close early on Sunday because of the heat, something it normally has to do only for snow.
“I think this is the first time we’ve ever closed early because of the heat,” he said.
Oregon’s biggest city, Portland, hit 44.4°C on Sunday, the US National Weather Service said, breaking a city record set a day earlier. Officials shut down the light rail and tram system because of the intense heat.
Nick Bond, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington, said the freak weather event was not entirely due to climate change, but was exacerbated by it.
“Climate change is a factor here, but definitely a secondary one,” he said.
“The main thing going on is this highly unusual weather pattern, but that being said, climate change is real, our temperatures have warmed here, especially summer night-time temperatures, and so that has just kind of raised the baseline and made this heat event that much more severe.”