On September 3, at the beginning of the first week of the fall semester, Environment Canada alerted Torontonians of a heat wave lasting from three to five days. This surge included the hottest stretch of heat all summer — impacting students’ commutes, orientation events, and overall transition into the school year.
During the week, temperatures reached heights of 40 degrees Celsius, which the alert noted was “very atypical of early September.” As the effects of the climate crisis worsen, climate researchers have warned that extreme weather events will become more prevalent, and institutions will need to work to mitigate them.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, spending prolonged periods in extreme temperatures can cause negative health impacts such as fainting, dizziness, and vomiting.
Too much sun for students
Some commuters found that the weather made commuting more difficult and less appealing.
Lana Yu, a third-year student studying neuroscience and immunology, told The Varsity that her commute felt “overwhelming” and “much more taxing” because of the heat. She also said the high temperatures have led her to drive more to avoid large crowds of people.
A 2021 study based in Austin, Texas found that extreme heat events reduced public bus ridership; however, placing tree canopies close to bus shelters mitigated this effect.
The heat has also impacted students’ preparation for the new school year. “I wanted to visit campus in advance, but the heat kept me home,” said Mariel Rivera, a third-year studying political science and diaspora and transnational studies.
Additionally, the heat wave conflicted with orientation events, such as the University of Toronto Students’ Union club fair on September 6.
“Running a booth in this weather was less than ideal,” said Amareena Saleh, a third-year student studying political science and public policy who was staffing a booth at the fair. “I had to take shifts with some of the other representatives to ensure people were getting adequate hydration and rest time,” they said.
They added that attendees they talked to complained of dehydration and feelings of sickness, which are both side effects of prolonged heat exposure.
Third-year English and cinema studies student Geneveive Sugrue, who helped run the Cinema Studies Student Union booth, also told The Varsity that her one-hour tabling shift was “rough,” and she experienced physical symptoms due to the heat.
Changes from climate change
This week has brought up questions on how Toronto can protect its population amid increasing heat.
In the face of meteorological predictions that global temperatures are set to reach new records, Rivera told The Varsity that she “can’t help but notice the drastic changes in heat between this back-to-school session and those in the past.”
Researchers suggest that these heat spells are likely to be more common in the future. According to one study from Nature Climate Change, “In high-emission scenarios, week-long heat extremes that break records by three or more standard deviations are two to seven times more probable in 2021–2050.”
Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, has been conducting research on how cities can adapt as extreme heat gets worse. In an interview with CBC, he explained that one of his takeaways is that cities need to protect access to air conditioning and cooling infrastructure as a human right.
Feltmate further urges municipalities to conquer the “heat island effect” — an exacerbation of heat that occurs in cities with dark and tarred buildings and roads such as Toronto. This problem can be mitigated by building white roofs and incorporating more trees and vegetation into infrastructure. The school itself has committed to measures to adapt to the effects of climate change and future weather events. The UTSC hosts a Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation program, where students can learn about “science-based, policy relevant expertise in assessing the impacts of climate change.” According to the provost’s website, the university also informs students about class cancellation due to adverse weather “as soon as possible by whatever means is appropriate,” including by announcements on course web pages or email.