Montreal takes steps to keep residents cool as heat wave begins

'Almost a jungle kind of a situation,' says climate change expert

The city of Montreal is taking action to help residents cope with the heat wave that began Monday afternoon.

Between Tuesday and Thursday, daytime highs will reach above 30 C but will feel hotter than 40 C due to humidity. Combined with nighttime and early morning lows above 20 C, the city is expected to be hit by a "dangerous combination," said Dave Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC).

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"That's almost a jungle kind of a situation," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak host Sean Henry.

The federal department has issued a heat warning for the Montreal area.

'Flexible' measures to help Montrealers cope

Past heat waves have led to tragedy in Montreal. In the summer of 2018, 66 people died during a heat wave.

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Montreal is "preoccupied by the situation," said city spokesperson Philippe Sabourin. The city has opened almost a third of its outdoor swimming pools, around 40 indoor pools and more than 184 splash pads.

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Homeless people will be given water bottles and "breaks" in shelters and other organizations equipped with air conditioners.

City officials have launched a number of measures in the years since in effort to prevent heat-related deaths, including a special intervention plan when the city is facing extreme heat.

According to Sabourin, the plan, which is not yet in effect, could be launched if the situation meets one of two criteria — three consecutive days with temperatures above 33 C or two successive nights with temperatures reaching at least 25 C.

On its website, Montreal recommends people drink lots of water, even if they aren't thirsty, during heat waves. People should reduce physical activity, wear light-coloured clothing, keep in touch with family and friends and spend a few hours per day in an air-conditioned location, the city says.

Heat exhaustion symptoms

Education Minister Bernard Drainville asked schools to be "flexible" and to allow students to leave their classrooms to hydrate.

"We've decided to prioritize exams in the morning, so it's not as hot," he said.

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Montrealers should call Info-Santé at 811 or talk to a health-care professional if they have symptoms such as exhaustion, dehydration, headache, dizziness or confusion. If these symptoms are coupled with feeling feverish, it could be heat stroke and require calling 911, the city says.

The city recommends visiting areas such as parks, swimming pools, mist stations and libraries to cool off.

Phillips expects Montreal to hit a heat record Wednesday with 34 C, 10 degrees warmer than usual at that time of the year.

He said this will be the first heat wave of the season, but "not the last," predicting a "warmer than normal" July.

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"By Labour Day, we'll have had several of them and we'll probably be veterans of the heat wars," he said.

Heat-related symptoms to watch

Dr. Laura Sang, a family physician working in the greater Montreal area, told Daybreak that the most common form of heat illness she gets are people with fungal infections on their skin because they struggle to keep it dry.

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Those with acute heat-related illness usually end up in the emergency room, she said.

She advised against going out between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. — peak sunlight hours.

She said young children may dehydrate quicker on hot days, and everybody should be cautious about participating in outdoor sports or activities when temperatures rise.

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Sang said she is most worried about older populations, especially those in long-term care homes that don't have proper air conditioning or ventilation.

She warned that young children or older people with cognitive impairment may not recognize the signs of dehydration or other heat-related symptoms. She said it's good to be able to recognize these symptoms in others.

If someone stops sweating when it's really hot, she said that's a bad sign. Other symptoms to look for are dry mouth and lips and signs of confusion, she said. This could be a sign they are approaching heat exhaustion.

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"What you want to do is get that person out of the heat, cool them down and rehydrate them," Sang said.

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Thumbnail courtesy of Getty Images.

The story was originally written by Hénia Ould-Hammou and published for CBC News. It contains files from Isaac Olson and CBC Montreal's Daybreak.