The last time I needed to use a fan in my comfortable townhouse unit nestled in between evergreen trees in forest-rich Surrey was, well, never. The last few days, however, have taught me how a good sturdy electric fan, much like the decades long General Electric fan my family owned for more than 40 years, was now looking more like first aid equipment than relief from the temperatures outside.
The scorching weather was caused by an extended “heat dome” parked over the Pacific Northwest. Intense, prolonged, record-breaking, unprecedented, abnormal and dangerous were words used by Portland University for the heat wave that is creeping up the Pacific Northwest, and is certainly the most extreme and prolonged heat waves in the recorded history of the Inland Northwest. The hottest recorded temperature was in Lytton, BC reaching up to 46.1 C.
Many of us weren’t ready for this heat. I visited three Walmart stores on Monday, and all of them had notices outside the door saying that ACs and electric fans were sold out. Schools and businesses cancelled classes and work for a day or two, as many buildings in BC are not well-equipped for the heat. Power cables were melting in the heat, and BC Hydro and Fortis BC are working overtime to compensate for the use of energy and water. Our inability to handle the staggering toll the climate crisis is already taking is a stark warning for the future if we continue to ignore climate matters. The temperature records will become more commonplace in the future and without adapting, more and more people will be at risk of suffering. It appears that the safest place to be amid that level of the oppressive heat is indoors with the air conditioning cranked, but since they’re built for cooler weather, more than half of all homes aren’t outfitted with cooling technology at all.
Business was good for hotels, though, as many opted to check into the pandemic-weary hospitality industry, and malls were busy throughout the weekend. The problem is, with Covid restrictions still in place, those numbers still need to be accounted for, and people need to protect themselves and distance themselves socially amidst the suffering they are experiencing in the heat. Another thing that doesn’t help is the wearing of masks in the heat, where the thick, hot air impedes normal breathing.
Of course, with the rise in temperature comes the rise in gas prices. Gas companies unabashedly raised their costs, shocking travel-ready Canadians to up to $1.70 per liter of gas in the Lower Mainland. We had to drive to Abbotsford to go full tank, where gas stations were going at $1.50 per litre, 20 cents cheaper than in the city. I still remember last year’s gas prices going back to their 2006 prices at 89 cents per litre during the pandemic lockdown, but there was nowhere to go. Now that people want to travel, gas companies are taking the opportunity to charge us what they lost a year ago. They’re no different from those people selling their ACs and electric fans online at 300 percent the cost they bought them, to unfortunate individuals who are desperate to cool their homes down for their children, the elderly parents and for their pets who are suffering in the heat.
A few weeks ago, I was just talking to my family and friends in Manila, who were experiencing 50-53 C and I thought to myself, that will never happen in BC. Well, I stand corrected. While we have not experienced anything close to that, for those who have been acclimatized by the mild BC weather, it seems that way. As the temperatures cool down, I certainly hope we do enjoy our summer break, with the pandemic restrictions cooling down as well, so that we can get our sanity back. The sun is certainly out to get us, one way or another, and I certainly hope it gives us a nice break.