Tropical Toronto

A record-breaking start to the year

We’ve been experiencing some record-breaking temperatures here in Ontario this year. Our last winter was incredibly mild and spring got off to a flying start with the first record temperature occurring in March, when many parts of Canada saw temperatures in double-digits. The last day of snow was March 9th – unheard of since record keeping began in 1937 and unbelievable considering 6 C is more usual for that time of year.

Since then, things have just got hotter and hotter. As the mercury rose above the mid thirties in early July, Toronto’s power-grid struggled to cope with the increased demand as air-conditioning units citywide remained on day and night. Transit companies were also affected as the heat had the potential to expand/buckle the steel rails, leading to speed restrictions on trains and streetcars throughout the city.Ever pictured Canada without the snow?

Scorching summers aren’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Canada – people tend to imagine polar bears and Mounties in their thick serge uniforms. While some parts of the country do stay chilly all year round, here in southern Ontario it can feel like the tropics during the summer months, particularly with the humidity.

Temperature is measured on something called the humidex, which takes into account the affect the humidity has on the “feel” of the heat. So far this year we’ve seen temperatures on the humidex in the mid forties. After waking up in a cool air-conditioned room, the heavy moisture in the warm sluggish air envelopes you like a damp sheet as soon as you open a window; we usually keep them closed to preserve the coolness for as long as possible

Extreme Heat Warnings

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It feels as though we’ve been under a Heat Alert for much of the year. The City of Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer has issued eight so far this summer; we’re under one as I write this. People are encouraged to check on family and friends, particularly the elderly and anyone without access to air-conditioning, drink plenty of water and stay in the shade. The city opens up cooling centres (ostensibly civic and community buildings with the benefit of air-conditioning) where water and snacks are made available and people can come to cool off. Libraries and shopping malls are full of people seeking respite from the heat.

Storms and tornadoes

All that heat means thunderstorms are a regular occurrence. They usually break in the afternoon or overnight following a period of intense heat and high humidity. The sky darkens and there’s an eerie stillness before the wind picks up as the storm approaches. The thunder is so loud it makes the house vibrate and a lot of rain falls rapidly in a short space of time, forcing drivers to pull over until visibility improves. But it’s the lightning that’s the most unpredictable danger. Last month more than 17 people were injured when lightning struck a tent at the local Ribfest. We would have been among them had we not waited for the rain to pass before taking the five minute walk over there.

Meanwhile, out on the prairies, Canada’s seen more tornadoes in 2012 than the US, which has had many American storm-chasers heading north. Tornadoes in Saskatchewan have been “off the charts”, with upwards of thirty this summer – most of them occurring in July. The annual average for the province is ten to twelve. Saskatchewan alone has had the same amount of tornadoes in July as the entire USA.

Wildfires and failing crops

As we enter August a widespread fire ban remains in place across Ontario’s Cottage Country. The restrictions were imposed on July 17th and prohibit all open flames, including campfires, fireworks and outdoor stoves. The land is like a tinderbox and lightning from the inexorable thunderstorms is enough to cause raging wildfires, like those seen near Algonquin Park at the end of last month.

Farmers are also suffering; with parts of southern Ontario described as a wasteland, crops have been damaged too badly to bounce back. Many are looking to the federal government in Ottawa for drought-relief tax-breaks – once an area is designated as a drought region, farmers are allowed to defer a portion of sales to a future tax year.

With the temperatures continuing to skyrocket, there’s no end to the heat in sight. Memories of shoveling snow take on the rosy hue of pleasurable bygone days and I can’t remember the last time I wore a pair of trousers…

Aisha Isabel Ashraf is a freelance writer and author of the popular blog EXPATLOG – a collection of irreverent observations from her experiences as a "cultural chameleon". It's where you'll find her, strung out on caffeine, humorously dissecting the peculiarities of expat life for her own amusement and the benefit of future generations.

She can be contacted via the usual avenues (e-mail, Twitter, Facebook) – just swing by the blog for directions.

Read Aisha's other Expat Focus articles here.


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