Living under a cloud of smoke
I have, for most of my life, lived in a place where the weather at its most extreme is often considered mild tempered for many other parts of the world. Out-of-the-ordinary weather is an event, something to keep us talking for a few weeks. What would normally be just an inconvenience in one country could have Ireland on lock-down, with schools and workplaces shut and all of us glued to our televisions watching an exhausted Joanna Donnelly move into her 12th hour of weather reporting on RTÉ.
Although we do get particularly excited about it in Ireland, the weather is increasingly becoming an important topic in countries all over the world as we try to grapple with the effects of global warming and climate change. This is especially felt in how hot it’s been over the past summer.
Moving to Vancouver in the summer saw us landing into an intense heatwave that seemed incessant for most of June and July. It was the kind of summer heat we had come here to avoid, lured to the city with the promise of a nice 20-22 degrees celsius average high during the summer months.
I don’t do well in heat, I never have. Although at the first sign of a falling leaf my limbs seem to numb themselves with even the threat of cold, I would still much rather live in a cold place than a hot one. Heat makes me irritable, I feel uncomfortable all of the time, and it feels impossible to do anything when I know I have to go out in near 30 degree weather.
I found many days in our first two months here a challenge as I worked my way through my limited wardrobe of shorts and light layers. I generally don’t feel comfortable in myself when I have to wear “summer clothes”, and usually end up in a mismatched ensemble that was decided on simply to get me through the day without completely dehydrating from sweat.
Heat is not my friend, but I didn’t expect it to be outdone by something else entirely: A haze of smoke caused by forest fires.
Living under a cloud of smoke
This hot weather is unusual for Vancouver, and it’s not as though I would have escaped it had I been at home – Ireland also saw record highs over the course of the summer. We have long been told that the world is heating up at a rapid pace, but I think it’s only now that we’re really beginning to feel it.
We were told that August is the worst month for the heat, and it was also the time of year that wildfires really ramp up across the province of British Columbia. No amount of stories or weather alerts could really have prepared us for what was coming. This has been a record year for wildfires in BC, and the daily air quality warnings emphasise the level of air pollution and smokey skies.
The result is a lost skyline, the smell of smoke in the air, and feeling like you’re halfway to a cold with a sore throat and blocked up nose.
Welcome to the apocalypse
Life has become like some sort of post-apocalyptic dream. Put yourself there. You’re walking down a quiet street, the light muted and dull even though the sun is still up. You breathe in, but the air leaves a dry, rough feeling at the back of your throat. If you look into the distance you can see the haze of smoke clouding the view ahead. You’re not sure you should be out at all. With every breath you take, you inhale the chemicals and toxins that are floating in the air around you. You try to take more shallow breaths, as if that will reduce how much of the stuff gets into your lungs, and pick up the pace.
This is, of course, an exaggeration. While we have had some really bad days here over the last few weeks, we’re certainly not getting the worst of it. Thankfully, the fires are not near us, it’s just the direction of wind that pushes the smoke our way, and there are other cities in the world that deal with this level of air quality all the time. Still, our blocked sinuses, dry throats, and stinging eyes are proof enough that this smoke is not good for us.
Already as I write this, the smoke is beginning to lift and the air quality is improving, so our few weeks of dystopian living seem to be coming to an end. In a few weeks time, this will have been just another weather event for us to get excited about.