As record-breaking heat waves sweep across North America and Europe, a new international project is experimenting with naming heat waves to raise awareness of their severity.
The Adrienne Arsht Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, a Washington, D.C.-based group that studies climate resilience, is conducting a pilot program to see if a heatwave naming system will affect public perception and actions during hot weather. intense.
The World Economic Forum reports that countries around the world are experiencing record heat waves This year. Rising global temperatures are making heat waves more frequent, more severe and longer.
“Heat, unlike other natural disasters, is silent and often invisible. Therefore, it is very important that we raise awareness of what heat can do, as it is actually one of the most severe natural disasters. we face,” said Kurt Shickman, director of extreme heat initiatives at the center.
“And so, this disparity between how dangerous they are and how visible they are really needs branding and more effort to raise awareness about this issue.”
The program has launched in six cities, including Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee and Kansas City, Mo., in the United States, as well as Seville, Spain and Athens, Greece. In July, Seville was the first city in the world to name a heatwave, calling it Zoe, according to Shickman.
“There’s been a lot of media coverage around this and a lot of attention has been given to it,” Shickman said.
“It’s important, not just to draw attention to the system, but actually to make people aware that this is a dangerous time.”
WMO fears confusing public
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a United Nations agency, said it was in favor of classifying heat waves, but was unsure what to scientifically name a heat wave. WMO also questioned whether the system could cause confusion for the public.
“The bigger issue here is that, in most countries, only designated national agencies such as weather services or public health agencies have national responsibility for issuing official heat warnings,” Bob Stefanski said. , Head of Applied Climate Services at WMO.
“We just want to make sure that these independent practices are coordinated and don’t risk disrupting the civil protection protocols already in place,” Stefanski said.
In Canada, some researchers agree with the WMO and are skeptical about how a naming system will communicate the severity of heat waves.
“I’m really, really against it. I think hearing, you know, the heat wave, Zoe or Joey is about to happen. It doesn’t really scare me. I think I don’t. necessarily pay attention to it,” said climatologist David Phillips. Phillips is a long-time researcher at Environment Canada, but shared his personal insights with the CBC.
He also pointed out that the reason a naming system was developed for tropical storms was for clear communication. Multiple storms may occur nearby or have the potential to collide.
Heat waves are also difficult to define and measure, Phillips said.
“In a tropical storm, one element decides whether it will be a tropical storm or a category 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 hurricane, it is the sustained wind. It is scientific, it is measured,” said Phillips.
“But I think with the heat waves, I just think there’s so many weather elements that make it up.”
Other Canadian researchers are interested in seeing the data collected through the Adrienne Arsht Rockefeller Foundation’s Center for Resilience pilot project to see how a naming system could be an effective communication tool.
Support in Canada
“I don’t see a lot of downside and I think it’s a good idea to try,” said Farah Shroff, associate member of the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia. .
“The main idea here is to reinforce the message in terms of what a heat wave is and how severe it is.”
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Shroff said one of his main caveats is that names should be chosen appropriately. A 2014 study found that hurricanes with names associated with men are taken more seriously than those with names associated with women.
“Really tailoring the messages very, very carefully and clearly to reach those who are most vulnerable, so that we as a community can all be safe together,” Shroff said.