Seville is naming and classifying hurricane-like heat waves

Parts of southern Europe experienced an aggressive heat wave last summer that killed dozens across the Mediterranean from Italy to Turkey, and caused Europe’s highest ever 120-degree Fahrenheit temperature in Syracuse, Sicily. registered. For its fiery intensity, the phenomenon of extreme heat was Nicknamed “Lucifer.”

It was just one-time labeling, rather than part of a structured naming system that scientists have applied to natural disasters such as hurricanes. But as extreme heat is becoming a threat (experts say Lucifer may every three years), Seville, Spain, is the first city in the world to have given its heat waves a recognizable identity for the people. It is also classifying them, but unlike hurricanes, it is doing so on the basis of health outcomes rather than meteorological grounds. This week, Seville Mayor Antonio Muoz, summer pilot announcedDubbed proMETEO, which if successful could set a blueprint for other cities in the world.

Extreme heat is a “silent killer,” says Kathy Baughman McLeod, senior vice president and director of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. Foundation working to combat extreme heat that kills many five million people a year globally, which includes appointing “Chief Heat Officers” around the world, including Miami, Athens, Greece and Santiago, Chile. But they needed more awareness of the heat. “We believe that we need to do something quick and dramatic to bring attention to this issue,” Baughman McLeod says.

By classifying heat waves, people know what heat intensity to expect and what they can do to stay safe. Bioclimatologist Larry Kalkstein spent 18 months researching how to classify them based on climatology, meteorology and health data. He developed a system of three categories that would tell people how to act in each instance, such as for a hurricane. Kalkstein, who lives in coastal Florida, says it’s because of category distinctions that he knows whether to vacate certain furniture to move it indoors.

Hurricane categories are based on pure meteorology – essentially wind speed – and the potential for damage to property from that wind speed. In the case of heat, Kalkstein instead developed a method to link the categories to health outcomes. This is important because the same magnitude of a heat wave can have different effects on people’s health depending on the time of year it occurs, or where it occurs in a given area. For this reason, meteorologically similar storms can theoretically be classified into different categories.

A street thermometer reads 47 °C (116.5 °F) during a heat wave in Seville on June 13, 2022. [Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP/Getty Images]

Importantly, heat-wave warnings will trigger various resilience responses. Cities like Seville, the hottest city in continental Europe, already have well-established heat interventions, but the idea now is to separate those functions by category. This could be the opening of city swimming pools, water parks and cooling stations to cool; dissemination of category-specific advice, such as drinking a certain number of water intakes a day, or canceling play dates and keeping children indoors; Also, prompting city health workers to intervene—for example, checking on the most vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, who died from extreme heat 104,000 in the EU in 2018.

But the categories were not enough; As for naming heat waves, they also needed a “PR factor,” Baughman McLeod says. While categories tell people what to do, naming is “the big retail branding exercise to convey seriousness and get you noticed.” Names have helped people remember the most infamous storms clearly. “We help people remember how serious they can be by saying Katrina, Maria, Sandy,” she says. Kalkstein lived in Louisiana in 1969, the second most intense hurricane in American history, during Hurricane Camille, which destroyed much of the Gulf Coast. “If you said, ‘Oh, that storm of 1969,’ I think it’s a lot less specific than saying, ‘Oh, Hurricane Camille,'” he says.

In the case of Seville, the pilot would begin by naming only the most extreme category of heat waves. Unlike the Hurricane system, they would start with Z and continue alphabetically alternating female and male names starting with Zoe, Yago, Xenia, Wenceslao and Vega. The team used a behavioral science company to conduct a focus group to decide on memorable names that were Spanish, but relatively uncommon.

In the fall, Kalkstein’s team will assess the pilot, making sure that what they call a heat warning occurs at the time with no real negative health consequences. “We need data for the whole summer to be sure,” he says. Already, other cities are in contact with Kalkstein and working on his system, including Melbourne, Australia, Miami and Los Angeles. On the same day that Prometeo launched, Athens also introduced its classification system using Kalkstein’s methodology, although it is not yet naming heat waves.

Boffman McLeod intends to publish a graphic of the heat waves that occur each summer, which are named and classified as National Weather Service for storms. All this is in service of educating the public to stay safe. “It’s one of the bright spots of climate work,” she says, “that people don’t have to die from the heat. It’s avoidable.”

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