Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to Bob Ward writing on the London School of Economics website, if we don’t name climate change induced heatwaves where temperatures exceed 82F, people won’t realise how deadly they are.
Is it time to start naming deadly heatwaves?
Commentary 23 July, 2019
Policy and Communications Director
A failure by the media to convey the severity of the health risks from heatwaves, which are becoming more frequent due to climate change, could undermine efforts to save lives this week as temperatures climb to dangerous levels.
Based on the experience of the last three summers, during which more than 2500 people across England were killed by heatwave conditions, hundreds of vulnerable people could die across the country in the coming days.
Public Health England has estimated that there were 863 “excess deaths” (PDF) during three heatwave periods last summer, which was the warmest on record in England.
The Met Office started in 2015 to name storms that were likely to have a significant impact in order to “aid the communication of approaching severe weather”.
Although heatwaves do not receive official names, a hot spell across parts of Europe during summer 2017 was nicknamed ‘Lucifer’ (PDF).
Far more people have died in the UK from recent heatwaves than from storms, so it should be uncontroversial to start applying names to both.
A heatwave officially occurs when a location records a period of at least three consecutive days with daily maximum temperatures meeting or exceeding the heatwave temperature threshold, which varies by UK county between 25 and 28 degrees Celsius.
By contrast, the ‘Heat-health watch’ on the Met Office’s website lists “heatwave threshold values” between 28 and 32 degrees Celsius for different regions of the UK.
The Met Office’s website does, however, point out that climate change is increasing the frequency of heatwaves in the UK.Read more: http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/news/is-it-time-to-start-naming-deadly-heatwaves/
Where I live on the edge of the tropics, if the Australian MET started naming individual days or weeks when temperatures soar over 82F, they would run out of names.
While 863 or 2,500 excess heat deaths is a tragedy, Britain should probably be more worried about the massive spike in winter deaths, 50,000 excess winter deaths which occurred last year according to official figures, and the rampant British green energy fuel poverty which makes the elderly and other people with low incomes hesitate to switch on their air conditioners or heaters.