Brighton beach at sunset - Hero RF

Heatwaves should be named as early warning system to save lives, Society says

Image credit: Ben Collins | Unsplash

The UK should name heatwaves as part of an effective early warning system to protect the most vulnerable, a group of leading scientists has said.

As the UK endures another heatwave and potentially record-breaking temperatures this week – and with climate change increasing the frequency of such events in the future – The Physiological Society is calling for heatwaves to be named in a similar way to storms.

The Physiological Society is the largest group of physiologists in Europe and is focused on understanding how the body works, including how it copes in response to heat and extreme weather.

Calls for improved early warning systems for heatwaves are included in a report The Society launched today (Wednesday 13 July) at an event in London regarding the health policy implications of climate change. The report highlights policy priorities for government in response to climate change’s impact on human health, as well as identifying areas of gaps in research that need to be addressed.

The UK Met Office currently names storms alphabetically each year – e.g. Storm Corrie, Storm Dudley and Storm Eunice, all of which hit the UK earlier this year – to aid the communication of approaching severe weather through the media and government agencies. Seville, in Spain, has recently started naming local heatwaves as the excessively hot weather has become more frequent.

Speaking ahead of the event on Wednesday, Professor Mike Tipton from The Physiological Society said: “This week could potentially see record-breaking temperatures here in the UK. Just like preparing for a storm in winter, people need to take action to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

“Extreme heat isn’t just a problem on your summer holidays; due to climate change we are increasingly seeing very hot weather here in the UK. Even one day of very hot weather can present a risk, but consecutive days of high temperatures triggers a heatwave that requires specific actions to keep people safe.

“As part of raising awareness of the threat from heatwaves in the UK, heatwaves should be named in the same way as we name storms. It makes the risk to health clear and that people can’t expect to continue as normal during the heatwave. This will aid the communication of approaching heatwaves through the media and government agencies. This is especially helpful for those who don’t have as ready access to the internet or weather apps on smartphones.

“As the science of how the body works, physiology explains the impact of hot weather on our health. We can use this knowledge to advise on ways to keep the body cool and design early warning systems that provide tailored advice to the most vulnerable or those who have to work in the heat.

“This will enable people to better plan ahead and take measures that could save lives. Such knowledge can also assist in smart building design and urban development, both of which will be amongst the developments needed going into a hotter future.”

The criteria the Met Office uses for naming storms is based on its national severe weather warnings service, which in turn is based on a combination of both the impact the weather may have and the likelihood of those impacts occurring. Storms are named only when they have the potential to cause an amber or red weather warning. Extreme heatwaves are increasingly falling into this category.

A collection of names for future storms are decided ahead of time for each year September-August, then get allocated to a specific extreme weather event as the need arises. No names are chosen that begin with the letters Q, U, X, Y or Z to maintain consistency for official storm naming in the North Atlantic, where names and storms can overlap with the US National Hurricane Centre.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles