Worried about another ‘heat dome’? Don’t be—they’re rare

A letter to the Victoria Times Colonist (June 21, 2022) by Steven Murray has the facts on the dreaded “heat dome”

Re: “Last year’s heat deaths? Stop blaming the heat,” editorial, June 17. The editorial argues that we should stop blaming the heat for the hundreds of deaths in last June’s heat dome. While there were some failures in planning and policy, the editorial ignores the exceptional nature of this event.

Many people, including your editorial writer, still don’t seem to grasp just how extraordinary and rare an event this was. Weather historian Christopher Burt described it as “the most anomalous regional extreme heat event to occur anywhere on Earth since temperature records began” roughly 150 years ago with the beginnings of modern meteorology.

Never before have so many all-time temperature records been broken by such a large margin in one region by a single event. According to international weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, more all-time heat records were broken by at least 5 degrees Celsius in the June 2021 heat wave than in the previous 84-plus years of worldwide weather record keeping combined.

An analysis of the June 2021 heat wave by a team of international climatologists estimated that this was a one-in-1,000year event for our region, and it could have been as rare as a one-in-10,000-year event. There have been references in the media to these kind of events becoming “the new normal,” but that is simply not the case.

While climate change will result in more heat waves in our region and more 30-C-plus days in the summer, events of this magnitude (40 C plus) will still be very rare. The same team of climatologists estimated that, even with the 2 C of warming expected over the next 30 years, an event as extreme as last June’s heat wave can still only be expected to occur once in every 300 or more years in our region. In other words, we are unlikely to see a repeat of this event in any of our lifetimes.

Yes, we should plan and prepare for future heat waves, which will gradually become more frequent. However, last June’s heat event was so rare and extraordinary that it is simply not practical or feasible to expect that we should be fully prepared for every such event.

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