'We are living it already': Climate change behind extreme weather events in Canada, experts say

Climate change is making extreme weather events more frequent and severe, experts say, with Canada being the latest flashpoint as it battles extreme heat.

On the West Coast, the B.C. Wildfire Service noted 70 new fires sparked on Thursday alone, with roughly 12,000 lightning strikes reported in the province that day. As of Friday, the service said there were 136 active wildfires across B.C., after temperatures that soared into the forties, dried out forests and caused scores of heart-related deaths.

Warning Preparedness Meteorologist for Environment and Climate Change Canada Natalie Hasell told CTV News Channel Friday that Canadians need to prepare for more extreme weather events.

“The fact that this has happened, and the suggestion that it could happen more – with the same intensity or greater intensity than what we have seen in the past, a longer duration than what we’ve seen in the past, that does fit with what we can expect from climate change,” Hasell said.

“Global warming - we have evidence for that, it’s real,” she continued. “Unfortunately we are living it already – it’s not the future, it’s here…so I hope people take the time to get better prepared as we will likely be seeing this more often.”

The B.C. coroner’s office said the death toll from the heat wave was in the hundreds.

Approximately 79,000 hectares (790 square kilometres) of B.C. have burned already this wildfire season, above the province’s 10-year average. Another fire destroyed an estimated 90 per cent of the village of Lytton, with residents still missing and the B.C. coroner service sharing reports of two deaths.

The North American Lightning Detection Network recorded 113,000 strikes hitting the ground in B.C. and Northern Alberta over 15 hours Wednesday and into Thursday.

While connecting one single adverse weather event to climate change is difficult, global warming has already caused things like heatwaves, storms and droughts to be more frequent and more severe.

The U.S. government said in its national climate assessment that “human-induced climate change has already increased the number and strength of some of these extreme events. Over the last 50 years the U.S. has seen increases in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, heavy downpours and in some regions, severe floods and droughts.”

The heat dome has now pushed east from B.C. and spread to the Prairies, an extreme weather event that puts the most vulnerable, like the elderly and those experiencing homelessness, at extreme risk.

“We’ve seen a lot of our clients with heat exhaustion,” said Jennifer Whitecap of Saskatoon’s Indian and Metis Friendship Centre to CTV National News.

Chief Climatologist for Environment Canada David Phillips echoed the U.S. government’s assessment for what is driving the climate crisis, a product of which are the extreme weather events Canada is facing now.

“Yes it was Mother Nature that helped produce it, but there’s a new agent of change called people, and so that’s why our weather systems are bigger, badder and more impactful,” Phillips said.

Climate change also drives storms to be more intense, as sea levels rising increase the impacts of coastal storms and warming can place more stress on water supplies during droughts, which are frequently getting longer.

Currently, Hurricane Elsa is battering Barbados as it churns up the Atlantic, already the fifth-named storm in what is expected to be a very active season.

So far it’s “above average as far as named storms go, and the strength of those storms,” explained CTV News Halifax meteorologist Kalin Mitchell to CTV National News.