07/19/2011 08:47 EDT | Updated 09/18/2011 05:12 EDT

Heat Wave Canada: Sweltering Weather Pushes Limits


THE CANADIAN PRESS — WINNIPEG - What a country — first it was so wet in much of Western Canada this year you had to wear hip waders to get your mail. Now it's so hot you can cook your breakfast in the mailbox.

With temperature and humidity readings making it feel like 40 C or more in parts of the country, construction workers labouring outside under the blazing sun are being warned to take extra precautions.

Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have seen new power consumption records set as air conditioners get cranked up to high and homeless shelters hand out sunscreen and water bottles.

"We ran out of sunscreen now and we also ran out of reusable water bottles," says Mike Duerksen of Siloam Mission in Winnipeg. "We're handing out hats as well that are going quite fast."

But so far, at least, there have been few reports of serious heat-related problems at hospitals, even where the weather is the most extreme.

"It's been sweltering. It was equivalent to 40 degrees with the humidex," said Bill Carney of the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region.

"We have two acute care hospitals here ... and I checked with our emergency folks and they saw no appreciable difference."

In Winnipeg, there has been a slight bump in the average number of emergency-room visits, says Heidi Graham of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, although they don't track whether those have been related to the heat.

"We are hearing anecdotally of people coming in with cases of sunburn, heat exhaustion, sunstroke, that sort of thing."

Gregg Walters of Environment Canada in Saskatoon says the hot weather is being pushed into Canada from the United States and stretches to parts of the Atlantic Provinces. But starting over the next day or so, temperatures (without humidex readings) that are hitting the high 30s in some areas will begin to wane from the west, so those suffering without air conditioning will find some relief.

"The whole pattern is gradually weakening," he says.

Still, humidex advisories remained in effect Tuesday for southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where hot and humid air was still making it feel like 40 C or more. And while the Toronto area was getting a bit of a break from the extreme heat Tuesday, the thermometer was expected to rise to 38 C there again by Thursday.

Many people were heeding advice to curtail outside activities, including museum workers who cancelled a fossil dig in Morden, Man.

"I was out yesterday and it was pretty hot. I thought if I had to run out today I would, but otherwise I'm going to stay in here and write a paper," says Joseph Hatcher, assistant curator with the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden.

The Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba has urged construction workers in particular to take care.

"Employers are encouraged to work with their safety and health committees, worker representatives of workers to prepare a hot weather plan," the board has advised.

Duerksen says those without shelter are particularly vulnerable to the heat.

"A lot of our guests are also carrying everything they own in their backpacks, so they're out in the heat carrying a fair amount of weight," he says, and that includes their winter jackets.

"They'll either be carrying them or wearing them."

The drop-in centre he runs sees 500 people a day but isn't air conditioned.

"We've got fans going, but we don't have the resources to put air conditioning in our drop-in centre, it's such a large room."

For some, however, it hasn't been hot enough. A Winnipeg pool and spa company ran a contest last year that offered your money back for any pool or hot tub if this year's temperature hit 34.5 C on Monday at the Winnipeg airport.

The official Environment Canada temperature reading at Richardson International was a mere 33 C at 2 p.m., the high for the day.