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Should we be naming heat waves like hurricanes?

By Tom Yun

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    TORONTO (CTV Network) — As extreme heat events around the world continue to become more common and deadlier thanks to the effects of climate change, some climate activists are calling on heat waves to be given names, just like hurricanes and tropical storms.

The city of Seville in southern Spain announced this week that as daytime highs reached 43 C, the hot weather event would be named “Zoe.”

The naming of heat waves is part of a year-long pilot project launched last month called proMETEO Sevilla, aimed at better warning the public and extreme heat events and increasing awareness about the impacts of climate change.

“If heat waves are categorized according to their consequences on health and names are given … citizens and administrations will be able to take effective measures to protect themselves against high temperatures,” proMETEO Sevilla said in a news release translated from Spanish on Sunday.

Starting with Zoe, the names will go in reverse order according to the Spanish alphabet. The next heat waves will be named Yago, followed by Xenia and Wenceslao.

Seville is also categorizing heat events based on intensity, another feature inspired by hurricanes. Category 1 heat waves are considered lower risk while Category 3 heat waves are the most extreme. The category ranking for each heat wave is determined by looking at the high and low temperatures, how much the weather cools down over night, the relative humidity and the duration of the heat wave.

“These factors allow the proMETEO Sevilla monitoring system to determine the level of severity and risk of the meteorological phenomenon in relation to the possible effects on the health of the population,” proMETEO Sevilla said.

The global campaign to get more officials on board with formally naming and categorizing heat waves is being spearheaded by the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, a Washington, D.C.-based climate advocacy non-profit. The organization says the increasing numbers of heat-related deaths each year underscore the urgency to develop a new type of warning system and called extreme heat “the deadliest natural disaster we face.”

“Categorizing and naming heat waves will enable local officials to implement heat-risk interventions and policies, such as opening air-conditioned shelters, activating a heat action plan, or adding extra staff to emergency rooms,” the organization said on its website.

So far, only a handful of cities globally, such as Athens, Greece; Santiago, Chile; Los Angeles and Miami have instituted similar naming initiatives. ENVIRONMENT CANADA, WORLD METEOROLOGICAL ORGANIZATION SKEPTICAL OF IDEA

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) told the agency isn’t considering naming heat waves because it sees “no advantage in doing so.”

“Heat waves in particular would be challenging because they are much more amorphous than something like a storm system,” ECCC spokesperson Samantha Bayard said in an email statement on Thursday evening.

“ECCC will continue to monitor international practices and could reconsider our approach if it became a recommended practice from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) at some future date”

Names of hurricanes and tropical storms are chosen by the WMO, the UN agency responsible for climatology and weather. The WMO said in a release last week it has “no immediate plans” to issue names for heat waves, but that it is “currently considering the advantages and disadvantages.”

However, the organization also expressed concerns that naming conventions that have been used for hurricanes may not easily translate to heat waves.

“Caution should be exercised when comparing or applying lessons or protocols from one hazard type to another, due to the important differences in the physical nature and impacts of storms and heat waves,” the WMO said.

While Arsht-Rock says the naming and categorizing should be based on “locally-specific” data, the WMO said the lack of an “agreed international system or protocol” is another hurdle when it comes to naming heat waves.

“Independent practices to rank and name heat waves which are not co-ordinated with the official warning systems, may risk disrupting civil protection protocols and coordination efforts, bring unintended negative consequences, or reduce the effectiveness of established heat advisory and response measures,” the organization said.

The WMO also expressed concerns over the potential for “false alarms” in the event that extreme heat events turn out to be less severe than predicted or occur in a different location than anticipated. In some regions, such as the tropics, the WMO said even three-day forecasts for heat waves tend to have a low level of accuracy

“This could potentially undermine any benefits of raised awareness through naming,” the organization said.

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Sonja Puzic

Article Topic Follows: CNN - Regional

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