Naming heat waves? What do you think?


Naming heat waves? Really?

Heat is searing a broad area of the West this week and setting records from Arizona and California North to the Canadian border in Montana and Oregon.

The stubborn hot spell has been underway there for weeks. Wildfires have erupted, many set by lightning, and smoke from these fires is shrouding  sections of that region, introducing another health hazard on top of the stress the heat has introduced to those who must work in it.

Rolling blackouts have been instituted in California as the use of air conditioning puts strains on the electrical grid there.

There’s no question that heat isn’t merely an inconvenience. It’s potentially deadly, particularly for the elderly, the poor who lack access to air conditioning and those with medical conditions like heart and respiratory ailments.

We learned that the hard way here in Chicago during a deadly siege of triple digit temps in July, 1995. More than 700 perished in that multi-day siege of triple digit temps which was rendered especially lethal by humidity levels which were off the charts. More of our fellow citizens perished in that round of hot weather than from any other natural disaster on the books here in the Chicago. And Lord knows we’ve experienced the full range of weather related challenges, from floods to tornadoes, snowstorms and extreme cold.

Of all extremes in weather here in the U.S., the stats are clear. Heat tops the list as the most deadly. The National Weather Service keep records on the number of fatalities which result from weather extremes and here are the numbers for the 1986 to 2019 period:

  • The #1 killer: Heat 4,257
  • #2. Floods 2,907
  • #3. Tornadoes 2,203
  • #4. Hurricanes 1,405

There are proposals being floated for naming heat waves. The contention is that attaching names to hot spells would more clearly communicate the danger level posed by impending heat.

What are your thoughts on this?

I’ll be honest with you, I think the naming of hurricanes has been useful. Studies have shown the naming regimen for tropical cyclones has been an effective tool in communicating the threat posed by these storms and has allowed folks to keep tabs on these systems; where they are and where they’re going.

The Weather Channel and the UK Met Weather Office even name winter storms.

Now, some are proposing naming bouts of heat. Where does this stop? Are cold waves next? How about floods or episodes of high winds? Should we set up a naming system for these too?

Here’s an interesting article on the proposal in some quarters to name heat waves which appears in the latest edition of Science News


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