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The Vancouver skyline, where Environment Canada has issued an air quality advisory and heat warning. Photo: Andrew Chin/Getty Images

Nearly 500 people have died in British Columbia since Friday as a historic heat wave grips the region, Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a statement Wednesday.

Why it matters: The heatwave in the Pacific Northwest has shattered records and alarmed scientists. In Lytton, British Columbia the temperature soared to 121°F on Tuesday, conditions which, in North America, are usually reserved for the desert Southwest.

The big picture: The record-breaking temperatures scorching the Pacific Northwest have translated to a markedly higher death rate than usual in British Columbia.

  • "The last five days in British Columbia have seen an unprecedented number of deaths reported to the BC Coroners Service. Between Friday and 1 p.m. today, at least 486 sudden and unexpected deaths have been reported to our agency," Lapointe noted.
  • The 486 deaths represent a "195% increase over the approximately 165 deaths that would normally occur in the province over a five-day period," she added.

Of note: Although not all of these deaths can be attributed to the heatwave in the Pacific Northwest, Lapointe said the extreme weather is likely responsible for the surge in numbers.

  • “While it is too early to say with certainty how many of these deaths are heat related, it is believed likely that the significant increase in deaths reported is attributable to the extreme weather B.C. has experienced and continues to impact many parts of our province."

What to watch: The number is "preliminary" and is expected to increase as more reports are filed and data is updated.

What they're saying: John Horgan, the premier of British Columbia, said at a press conference Tuesday that the heat wave underscored the existential threat posed by global warming, per the New York Times.

  • “The big lesson coming out of the past number of days is that the climate crisis is not a fiction,” Horgan said. “It is absolutely real.”

Our thought bubble, from Axios' Andrew Freedman: Climate studies have shown that extreme heat events such as this one are becoming more severe and frequent due to human-induced climate change, but the magnitude and longevity of this weather pattern has shocked many climate researchers. To put the heat into context, the all-time high temperature record in Las Vegas, Nevada stands at 117 degrees. British Columbia shattered that this week.

Go deeper: Pacific Northwest heat wave, Canada temperature record shock experts

Go deeper

Study: Cost of carbon emissions measured in lives lost is high

Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals

Adding projected heat-related deaths into cost-benefit analysis of federal rules would tilt policymaking in favor of more aggressive carbon emissions cuts, a new study finds.

Why it matters: The social cost of carbon helps determine the outcome of cost-benefit analyses that underpin federal regulations. Adding in global warming's potential to cause more heat-related fatalities would tilt the policy calculus from supporting a gradual phaseout of emissions starting in 2050, to fully decarbonizing by the same year.

Jul 29, 2021 - Podcasts

What this summer means for the climate crisis

From Portland to New Orleans, heat watches, warnings, and advisories are in effect across 19 states. It’s just the latest in a series of extreme heat waves, floods and wildfires across the world that have been made worse by the ongoing climate crisis. How should we be thinking about how to solve all of these climate calamities?

  • Plus, what it takes to put up a monument.
  • And, U.S. women win gold at the Olympics.

Guests: Author of Ida B. The Queen, Michelle Duster, Axios' Andrew Freedman, and Ina Fried.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Amy Pedulla, Naomi Shavin, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:

Manhattan, Westchester prosecutors request evidence from Cuomo investigation

Gov. Cuomo during a press conference in New York City on Aug. 2. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The district attorneys for Manhattan and Westchester County on Wednesday requested evidence related to New York Attorney General Letitia James' investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), according to a letter obtained by NBC News.

Why it matters: The district attorneys are investigating if alleged conduct highlighted in an independent report published by James' office that occurred in their jurisdictions was criminal in nature.