2021 Western North American Heat Wave

“The heat wave validated a lot of my fears about climate change”

Jasna Rowse

Langley, Canada
Jasna Rowse as told to Claudia Culley
Edited by Aldyn Chwelos and Tracy Sherlock

Jasna is a journalism student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. As a child, Jasna chose to play with a pen and paper before toys. She was an independent child and pursued many creative hobbies such as making crafts and putting on theatre productions with her siblings.

Her interest in writing and curiosity for the world made journalism the perfect career path. That’s because of how unique each workday can be and the opportunity to meet extraordinary people. Once graduated, Jasna hopes to become a reporter or work in social media and public relations. 

Jasna has lived in Langley, British Columbia her entire life, watching the town turn from a suburban neighbourhood to a developed city. She spends her spare time playing tennis, practicing yoga, and visiting with friends.

Painting has also always been Jasna’s passion. She finds it therapeutic and a way to spend time with her friends. She hosts weekly art sessions for them, accompanied by a Harry Styles playlist.

During the 2021 heat wave, Jasna was living in Langley with her parents and sister. She was also looking after her dog, Ollie, and cat, Little Kitty. Jasna had just finished the spring semester at Kwantlen and was working full-time at Republica Coffee Roasters in Fort Langley.  

Jasna Rowse was living with her family in Langley, Canada during the 2021 Western North America heat wave. (CDP Photo/Claudia Culley)

I didn’t know about it until a week before it happened. I was hearing through word of mouth that it’s gonna be really, really hot. I remember looking at the weather app and seeing 40 on there. When was the last time I’ve ever been in 40°C weather? I don’t think I ever have. How am I going to deal with this?

Fort Langley is a town where a lot of people like to walk around and go from store to store. On a sunny summer afternoon, normally the streets are full, and people are walking everywhere, but during that time, it was just bare. It was absolutely dead. It felt like the middle of winter in a sense, except for complete opposite weather. I remember seeing heat haze everywhere and it was starting to freak me out.

When I was working, we had very little customers coming in and out. I had worked summers there before, and it was unbearable. The windows brought so much heat in. It was such an old building. We had a small air conditioner, but it couldn’t keep up with the heat. It would stay cool for the first 2 hours of the shift. For the rest of the 8 hour shift, it would increasingly become unbearable. Our ice machine stopped working due to the heat. We had to go to the store to get ice and they were sold out. I got really nervous to start working my shifts. I was like, “Oh, my goodness, this is not going to go well. What happens if I get super dizzy? What happens if I feel like I can’t do it?”

The owner was in the store with me working. Due to the pandemic, we didn’t really have a lot of staff. It was just me and him and we decided to close the store for the last 3 hours of the day. We were so hot and drenched in sweat. So, even though the Fort Langley river is super nasty, we decided to go in our clothes to cool off even the slightest bit. Eventually we went back into the store. Sitting in my car, the leather seats scalded my body, even though my clothes were soaking wet.

I was gone at work for 4 hours, and I came home and all the plants in my room had died. My bedroom got so hot because it was on the upper floor. I have always lived in the same house, and I don’t think we’ve ever been that hot. I ended up sleeping downstairs with my sister in the basement. It was significantly cooler than upstairs, but it was still really hot and very uncomfortable. My pets slept downstairs on tile to try to keep cool.

I remember my grandma called me during that time. I thought, “Oh my gosh, she has no air conditioning. I have no idea what she’s doing to keep herself safe.” She was freaking out about if we had borrowed a fan from her. I was like, “I don’t care, I don’t need a fan. I will drive mine to your house no problem,” because she lived in an apartment with lots of glass. So I was so nervous. But luckily, she was spending all day at the mall, so she was doing okay.

It was weird to talk about the heat wave with some of my different friends. The people who had air conditioning in their homes had no idea what was going on. They’re like, “Oh, I’m just not going outside today.” Whereas us, we’re experiencing the reality of it throughout the entire night not being able to sleep. It made me feel weird. I’d be texting my friends, “Oh my goodness, how did you sleep last night?” And they’d be like, “Fine, what do you mean?” And I’m like, “Oh, we’re having two different realities going on right now,” even though we’re both experiencing climate change.

Once I started talking to my one friend about the air conditioning situation, she’s like, “Well why don’t you just spend the week over here?” All my friends were super sweet. We were determined to get through it together.

The heat wave validated a lot of my fears about climate change. I was completely unprepared and I feel I wasn’t alone in that response.

You hear about extreme weather events happening  almost everywhere else in the province. I feel this was one of the times where we’ve concretely seen an example of climate change.

This story was originally published in the Royal British Columbia Museum, on January 15, 2023.

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