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Explained: Spain's City Gives Name To A Heatwave, Why Experts Believe Giving Names To Heatwaves Would Be Helpful

Explained: Spain's City Gives Name To A Heatwave, Why Experts Believe Giving Names To Heatwaves Would Be Helpful

Experts say heatwaves should be ranked and named like hurricanes, so that people are better aware of the dangers and they understand the gravity of the situation better.

People cool off in the water on a hot and sunny day at the beach in Barcelona, Spain.
People cool off in the water on a hot and sunny day at the beach in Barcelona, Spain. AP/Emilio Morenatti

Harrycanes Katrina and Sandy in the United States, cylcones Amphan and Fani in India, and typhoons Mangkhut and Morakot in East Asia are some of the well-known storms to have hit these regions. 

Naming of storms helps in making people aware about them, makes it easy to remember storms as technical names might be tough to memorise, and helps categorise them over the years. This is a process that has been going on for years. 

Storms were first assigned names in 1887 when Clement Wragge in Australia's Queensland "began naming tropical cyclones after the Greek alphabet, fabulous beasts, and politicians who annoyed him", according to Richard Wardle, Weather Services Manager at Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Now as climatic conditions change across the world and several of the parts frequently get battered by severe heatwaves, experts have started making the case that heatwaves too should be named. Moreover, first names have already been made. The city of Seville in Spain has already given the first name to a heatwave in the world — Zoe. The idea behind naming it is that it would make more people to heed warnings and do the needful. 

The naming also comes amidst extreme temperatures in several parts of the world in which several places, such as the United Kingdom and India's Delhi, have recorded their all-time highest temperatures. 

Here we explain the idea behind Seville's naming its heatwave Zoe, what's the naming system it has adopted, and why are experts advoting names for heatwaves.

Why did Spain give a name to heatwave?

Spain has experienced a particularly severe heatwave this year, with over 1,000 thousands being reported in the country.

Seville in June launched the project to name heatwaves in June. The intention to do so was first mentioned in October 2021. The idea behind it is that it can "raise public awareness about the dangers of extreme heat and help communities implement better emergency response plans", according to the Scientific American.

Hearing "Heat wave Zoe is coming" instead of "it’s going to be extremely hot" could make more people listen to warnings more seriously, noted Time magazine.

The system Seville involves a three-tier approach to heatwaves, with names being assigned to tier-three heatwaves. 

What's the system adopted by Seville?

Spain's Seville city has adopted a three-tier heatwave system, with names being assigned to tier-three heatwaves.

Daytime and nighttime temperatures, humidity, and expected health effects on people of high temperatures would be among the variables involved in categorising heatwaves.

Names will be assigned in reverse alphabetical order, starting with Z. This is why the first heatwave has been named as Zoe. The other four names finalised for this season are Yago, Xenia, Wenceslao and Vega, according to Scientific American.

Each tier would bring it with a set of measures to tackle heatwave effects, such as sending healthcare workers to check on at-risk people, opening pools for longer, setting up cooling centres, and sending out warnings. 

Why experts advocate naming heatwaves?

Heat-related deaths are the highest in the United States, overshooting any other weather-related event, according to US National Weather Service.

"That dominance has also persisted over decades, with heat-related fatalities dwarfing deaths from tornadoes, floods, hurricanes and other weather hazards over the past 30 years," reported NBC News.

Heatwaves have also extracted heavy tolls elsewhere. While over a thousand people have reportedly died in Spain from the ongoing heatwave, Reuters last month reported that Portugal too had reported by that time over 1,000 deaths. 

Despite such high tolls, heatwaves and its effects are underestimated. Experts argue that when something has a name, it's taken more seriously. 

"Naming [heat waves] will make something invisible more visible. It also makes it more real and concrete, rather than abstract," said climate communicator Susan Joy Hassol of Aspen Global Change Institute to Science News.

Heatwaves, without naming and categorising, are invisble as their effects are on people's health, whereas effects of storms or floods are on infrastructure and our physical environment that we can and understand the toll. Since heatwaves are people-centric, not everyone understands the gravity of the situation.

Hassol further said, "People know when a hurricane is coming. It has been named and it has been categorised, and they're taking steps to prepare. And that’s what we need people to do with heat waves."

"Heat waves, have been dubbed 'the silent killer' for a reason: They wreak unseen havoc on our economies, prey on the most vulnerable members of society, and kill more people than any other climate-driven hazard, yet the dangers they pose are grossly underestimated and gravely misunderstood...Naming and categorising heat waves will go a long way towards giving people and municipalities a fighting chance against heat, building a culture of awareness and saving lives," said Kathy Baughman McLeod, the director of Arsht-Rock Center, which advised the city of Seville.

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