Record-breaking heat wave coming to a stormy end

A raft full of people is seen down the Bow River during a warm afternoon in Calgary. Tuesday, August 18, 2020.

As heat warnings across Alberta persist and records continue to be broken, Canada’s weather agency is predicting a wet and stormy change of course by Thursday.

As Calgary saw a high of 33 C on Tuesday, Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Terri Lang said the area is not alone in the “really, really hot weather.”

“This is the same air mass that’s giving those record temperatures down in Death Valley,” Lang said. “The heat is spread all over Western Canada, B.C., Saskatchewan and now creeping into Manitoba … as well as the Western U.S., so this air mass is over a large, large area.”

She added these temperatures and trends are not uncommon for this time of year and into the end of August.

But the recent three-day stretch over 30 C, from Sunday to Tuesday, was a bit rarer.

It has been over a decade since Calgary has seen three consecutive days of 30 C temperatures, with the last recorded stretch in July 2007, according to Environment Canada. The average high for this week in August is about 22-23 C, with the highest recorded temperature for Aug. 17 occurring in 2011 when Calgary saw a 34 C day.

Lang said what happens next is predictable for this kind of air mass: thunderstorms.

“Once the ridge starts to break down, what we’re expecting to happen in the next couple of days, the atmosphere destabilizes so we see cooler air moving in, some humidity and that’s when we see thundershowers starting to form,” she said.

Lang added that although August 2012 was hotter than this month has been so far, this year is on track to be in the top 10 hottest Augusts on record.

The wet spring and early summer proved to be beneficial for a majority of the province’s farmers. Lynn Jacobsen, president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture, said there are many who will be pleased with the recent heat.

“I think for a lot of farmers, they’re looking at crops they haven’t seen for quite a while, so they’re optimistic,” he said. “(They’re) probably enjoying it to a certain degree because this will bring their crops forward faster than they would normally expect.”

Jacobsen said farmers with irrigation crops will likely be enjoying the heatwave, such as pea farmers, but most farmers across the province will maintain cautious optimism as September approaches.

“There is a bit of trepidation on some of the people’s parts thinking, ‘Are we going to get a terrible September like we had last year?’ and that’s always at the back of your mind,” he said, adding if the weather stays in the 20 C range, “people would be perfectly happy to continue on with that until the end of harvest.”

Another record was reached in Calgary on Tuesday as electricity consumption through Enmax Energy topped this summer season’s previous high.

“Our prior record for summer 2020 was 1,565 megawatts and that was set on July 29,” Andre Van Dijk, vice-president of power delivery with Enmax, said. “As of a little earlier (Tuesday), we’re up as high as 1,619 megawatts so we have indeed set a new record peak for this season.”

Van Dijk said the overall record for energy consumption in a summer season in Calgary was set on Aug. 10, 2018, which recorded a high of 36.5 C, at 1,692 megawatts.

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