Science

Climate: Should we name heat waves like hurricanes?

“Let’s enjoy this weather.” On July 14, the ultra-conservative British channel GB News showed the difficulty of understanding the severity of heat waves. While the Met Office – the equivalent of Météo France – worried about British lives in anticipation of a heat wave for the country, reporters on set called the event a mere “good weather” period. The classifier immediately caused outrage among climatologists, and such temperatures kill and paralyze certain types of economic activity.

In order for them to be considered natural disasters in their own right, in the media, but above all in people’s minds, should heat episodes like hurricanes be named? In Spain, the heat wave that hit the municipality of Seville from 24 to 27 July, which resulted in temperatures exceeding 43°C, is now called “Zoe”. The result of the new nomenclature adopted in July. Hence the name of the most dangerous heat waves for health.

The Mayor of Seville hopes that, like Hurricanes Katrina, Irma and Dorian, Zoe’s heat wave will be more memorable. That, perhaps, to push the population and state authorities a little more to protect themselves from these phenomena. The heat kills more than 300,000 people worldwide every year, according to a 2020 report from The Lancet. “We are the first city in the world to plan and take action when such a weather event occurs,” the Mayor of Seville greeted as the adoption of the measure, which he considers groundbreaking, as these events intensify due to global warming.

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The idea was picked up in France. During the July heat wave, some researchers such as Serge Zaka, agro-climatologist, or Maxime Combes, climate policy economist, spoke out on social media with a certain irony: “After TotalEnergies1 in June, and because there is not enough reason, let’s continue our efforts and Let’s call this coming terrible heat wave TotalEnergies2,” the latter poked fun on Twitter on July 13, 2022. The debate is far from trivial… at a time when the waves are multiplying. In France, news has already emerged this week that temperatures will locally reach 40°C on Wednesday at noon in Toulouse.

UN says no

If the adoption of polluting company names is not really on the agenda, part of the scientific community is seriously considering choosing names rather than using the current year. “This is indeed a question that some of my colleagues are asking themselves, who believe that naming can help the general public understand the problems associated with extreme temperatures,” Fabio D’Andrea, a researcher at CNRS and Dynamic, told Express. Laboratory of Meteorology of the Higher Normal School (ENS).

So much so that on July 12 the UN spoke out about it. “We don’t currently have a naming system and we don’t see one in the near future,” Claire Nullis, spokeswoman for the organization’s meteorological division, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said during a press conference. conference. “Hurricanes are large systems that affect multiple countries. Heat waves are more localized,” she said.

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Heatwaves, in places much less predictable than hurricanes, are another obstacle to such change. “Events so named may not occur, may be less serious, or may occur in different locations. This could potentially undermine the benefits of name awareness and create false alarms,” ​​the organization said in a statement. On July 19, 2022, Express contacted Météo France, the country’s official service for meteorology and climatology, about this, and prefers to adhere to the UN decision. There is no doubt that the debate may resume in the future due to a new wave of heat.

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