Naming Heat Waves Might Save Lives

Coalition says the convention raises awareness of dangerous storms
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 7, 2020 5:30 PM CDT
We Need to Start Naming Heat Waves, Too: Coalition
A fan sprays water as customers sit outside a cafe in downtown Rome on July 31, during a heat wave with temperatures over 104 degrees Fahrenheit.   (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Putting names to hurricanes works pretty well. Calling a storm Harvey or Wanda raises awareness of the threat, of how hurricanes work, and ensures everyone's talking about the same storm, Grist reports. That could help with heat waves, too, an international coalition of climate, weather, and public health experts says. "I spent 25 years in Florida, and I know the difference between Category 1 and Category 3," one of the group's leaders in the US said. "That's all very standard for people who live near hurricanes." The details of the dangers extreme heat poses are less known. An expert in England said everyone should be checking on older relatives and neighbors, for example. "People tend to do that in cold weather," he said, "but they're less likely to do that in hot weather—there’s this view that hot weather is somehow lovely for everyone."

Heat waves' invisibility complicates efforts to warn and educate people about them, per the Washington Post. The death tolls already have been high: more than 50,000 in Russia in 2010, and possibly 70,000 in Europe in 2003. Heat waves are occurring more often and are more intense, which studies attribute to the buildup of greenhouse gases. One study found areas growing too hot for human life. The international cooperation when it comes to hurricanes is the coalition's model. "Naming creates a media opportunity for a more dramatic awareness," the American expert said—"a more dramatic call for preparation and for action." Naming storms helps increase resources sent to communities to deal with them, she said. "We don't have the decision-maker awareness to protect and prepare people for extreme heat. That's what this is about." See a list of names that are already taken for storms here. (More heat wave stories.)

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