From Cyclone Tracy to Hurricane Katrina, the world has long been accustomed to naming storms, but what about heat waves?
As climate change makes extreme weather more common, a city in Spain has become the first to give a name to a heat wave.
In June, Seville announced a new heatwave ranking system that would give heatwaves names and severity levels, similar to how hurricanes are ranked.
The city called its first heat wave under the new Zoya system this week as temperatures topped 43°C.
Europe has experienced this year, raising fears that increasingly hot summers could become the norm due to climate change.
University of Melbourne climate science lecturer Andrew King said naming heat waves could help raise awareness of their impacts as climate change makes them more frequent and intense.
“For a very long time, we have been naming tropical cyclones, and perhaps that is partly because they represent different weather systems… they are very visible on weather maps and satellite imagery,” he said.
“Heatwaves are a bit more abstract in the sense that they are harder to see, but I think labeling heatwaves would really help raise awareness of the upcoming heat wave when it is predicted.”
According to Dr. King, heat waves are a “silent killer.”
“We are seeing an increase in hospital admissions and an increase in heat-related deaths… so I think focusing on heat waves and their impact is certainly a very good idea.”
‘Australia not ready for heat wave’
In Australia, doctors are calling for action on climate change, warning that the health system is unable to cope with the growing burden of climate change-related disease.
“The climate emergency is a public health emergency that should receive the highest priority this decade,” says an open letter signed by the Australian Medical Associations, Physicians for the Environment of Australia (DEA) and a number of medical colleges in September.
Dr. Kim Loo is a GP in North West Sydney and Chairman of the Narcotics Enforcement Administration in New South Wales.
Dr. Kim Lu, Chairman of Western Sydney and NSW Drug Enforcement Administration General Practice. Source: SBS news / SBS news
“Australia is not ready for a heat wave,” Dr Lu told SBS News as the hospital system is already up and running. .
Heat waves are a serious health threat, but they are often underestimated, according to Dr. Loo.
“People don’t really know about heat waves. Because they are not as visible as a cyclone or a flood,” she said.
“People really underestimate, even some of my own patients, really underestimate how deadly heatwaves can be. Working in Western Sydney, during heatwaves we are often 6 to 10 degrees hotter than the rest of Sydney.”
A study by ANU academic Thomas Longden found that more than 36,000 people died due to the heat wave between 2006 and 2017.
“That’s about 2 percent of the total deaths in Australia over that time period,” Dr Longden said.
The World Health Organization states that heatwaves are “among the most dangerous natural disasters”, but “they are rarely given due attention because the death toll and destruction are not always immediately obvious.”
There is “merit” in Australia following in Seville’s footsteps and adopting the heat wave naming system as heat waves become more common due to climate change, Dr King said.
“Some types of extreme weather are becoming more common, especially heatwaves. We are seeing really big trends in frequency and intensity, including in Australia, and we are seeing record events where temperature records are broken by two or three degrees Celsius, which is a pretty big margin,” he explained.
“This is due to anthropogenic climate change, such as greenhouse gas emissions.”