Smart home devices helping scientist get inside deadly B.C. heat wave – The Globe and Mail
At the height of British Columbia’s deadly heat wave, Sarah Henderson fielded a flurry of questions from health officials across the province wanting to know more about what exactly had happened. The extreme weather in June, 2021, would soon be known as the deadliest such event in Canadian history. But as it was unfolding, there were many unanswered questions – and only an uncomfortable suspicion that the death toll would be significant.
Dr. Henderson, the scientific director in environmental health at the BC Centre for Disease Control, began poring over the emerging information with her team, working to understand what had transpired and how to prevent such a disaster from happening again. She started with official government reports, but it was an unexpected, commonplace source that would ultimately reveal the most intriguing data.
Analyzing data from Environment Canada, B.C.’s Vital Statistics Agency and an in-house algorithm used to detect anomalies in expected values, Dr. Henderson’s team found that temperatures during the heat wave had soared 10 to 15 degrees above what is normally expected. The heat built up and peaked on June 28, and was followed by a spike in deaths the next day – a pattern common in extreme hot weather events.
On any given day, an average of 110 people die in British Columbia, Dr. Henderson and her team would later write in an article for the BC Medical Journal. On June 29, a total of 380 people died across the province. In the eight days from June 25 to July 2, the researchers found that there were a total of 1,630 deaths – about 740 more than would be expected in a normal summer, according to their statistical models.
(The BC Coroners Service, which has produced different numbers based on deaths that were reported to it, found that there were 595 heat-related deaths between June 18 and August 12.)
Where these additional deaths took place was also startling. On average, 70 deaths a day in B.C. happen in the community (as opposed to in a health care facility). On June 29 alone, there were close to 275. The BC Coroners Service would later release similar findings, reporting that 96 per cent of heat-related deaths from June 25 to July 1 occurred inside a residence.
People died during B.C.’s heat dome not because it was hot outside, Dr. Henderson would soon report to health officials, but because it was hot inside. But how hot?
From her home in the Fraser Valley, Dr. Henderson knew first-hand just how uncomfortable it became indoors during the heat wave, particularly in a province where few people have air conditioning. But there were limited data on indoor temperatures available to the public to show this in any sort of meaningful way.
“That kind of triggered my interest in the temperatures,” Dr. Henderson said in an interview. “So then the next question is: How do I get this information? We have outdoor weather stations all over the place measuring temperatures – I can access those easily – but how do …….
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