The main purpose of this ongoing blog will be to track planetary extreme, or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials).😉
Main Topic: The Heatwave Naming Debate Intensifies (As Well As Deadly Heat)
Dear Diary. Many independent people and organizations besides yours truly are beginning to name heatwaves. The Guardian and Common Dreams this week reported on my naming U.S. heatwaves after fossil fuel companies this year:
Since I’m one lone meteorologist, (and no, I am not retired), the New York Times and Washington Post have not yet reported on my efforts, which are a little more controversial than just naming heatwaves after beings from folklore. Bigger fish than yours truly are making waves here, though.
Here is a recent repost from the Washington Post:
Cerberus. Charon. Gary? Heat wave naming debate intensifies.
Updated July 20, 2023 at 9:25 a.m. EDT|Published July 20, 2023 at 7:48 a.m. EDT
Tourists refresh themselves with water in front of the Parthenon temple at the Acropolis on Thursday during a heat wave in Athens. (Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
LONDON — “Cerberus” captured the imagination. The bad boy hellhound from Greek mythology caught on as the inspired name for the heat wave that descended on southern Europe this month, turning weather maps scarlet, closing tourist sites and prompting urgent warnings to seek cool shelter in Italy, Spain and Greece.
Except in Seville, Spain, they were calling the heat wave “Xenia.” In Greece and Cyprus, it was dubbed “Cleon.” And before anyone could agree, Italy’s il Meteo commercial meteorological service reported that the weather system had moved on and it was now anticyclone “Charon” — named after the ferryman of the underworld — that was bringing the heat.
All that seems to reflect a desire in Europe to start attaching names to extreme heat events — which are becoming so common that they sometimes blur together in people’s consciousness. But what naming system to use, which forecasts warrant names and who should make the calls are far from settled.
For decades, government meteorologists have been naming typhoons, cyclones and hurricanes — depending on where they formed. They were all female names until the late 1970s, incidentally.
Wildfires are often given names, usually bestowed by the initial attack incident commander, for a geographic feature where the conflagration began — a mountain, canyon, watershed. Floods, too, can be named, for the rivers that crest, or the dams that burst or towns destroyed. So can high winds. The British Met Office, in cooperation with Irish and Dutch national forecasting services, will deploy names for high-wind events, starting with Antoni, Betty, Cillian …
Extreme heat waves are only sporadically named today, mostly by the media. But there is a move to make the names more official — and also to categorize the threat level posed by high temperatures — to better alert and motivate the public and governments to take necessary action.
Extreme heat is already the No. 1 weather-related cause of death in the United States. Heat kills more people most years than hurricanes, floods and tornadoes combined.
And yet researchers note that heat doesn’t have the dramatic visuals that hurricanes and floods produce. Heat is — at least visually — more subtle. The news media show tourists splashing in Roman fountains. They don’t tend to show seniors, construction workers or babies in the emergency room.
Doctor Claudio Consoli of Asl Roma 1 visits Remo Mazzotta, 90, at his home to give him assistance and check on how he is coping with the heat in Rome on Tuesday. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters)
Hannah Cloke, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, said that naming dangerous heat events could be a useful tool. “Because it helps us to talk about it,” she said.
Cloke said naming an anticyclone Cerberus, “after a big scary monster, made sense,” both as branding and metaphor. “Because it is scary.”
But she cautioned that, with global greenhouse gas emissions still soaring, there will be many more, more frequent, more intense heat waves in coming years. “And we will run out of monsters” to name them after.
Alan Kennedy-Asser, a researcher at the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute for the Environment, similarly wondered: “If we name every peak in every heat wave, we might run out of ominous, hellish names relatively quickly, and could end up with the much less sinister sounding Heat Wave Gary.”
Some public health experts said naming a heat wave Gary might not be so bad — because even if you believe extreme heat should jolt people awake about human-driven climate change, as far as immediate action, public heath officials don’t want people to panic, but to do something sensible. Like find air conditioning. Or drink more water.
Friederike Otto, a climatologist at Imperial College London, said she appreciated “the hell-themed names given to the recent ones,” because deadly heat waves are the “closest we get to Hieronymus Bosch in this world,” she said referring to the Renaissance-era painter known for his depictions of hell.
But she said more neutral, alphabetically ordered names might be more effective. “We still have a long way to go to take heat waves seriously and do the appropriate actions: have heat action plans, redesign our cities, stop burning fossil fuels,” she said.
One climate scientist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for this idea, mused: “Could they be named Heat Wave Exxon or Heat Wave Shell?” For big corporate polluters.
Then the same scientist amended the thought and said: “They should probably be named for us — because we are the ones responsible.”
A firefighter tries Wednesday to control a wildfire in the settlement of Neoi Pontioi, near Athens. (Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images)
Both Cerberus and Charon were named by il Meteo, whose founder, Antonio Sanò, told Wired that his website has been naming heat waves for years.
Luca Mercalli, president of the Italian Meteorological Society, was dismissive of the name — as clickbait.
He told The Washington Post that this “is an absolutely commercial name, not recognized by the scientific community, for an anticyclone that pops up over southern Europe every year, sometimes more mild, sometimes much worse,” like this month.
But Mercalli said he supports naming these events by official bodies, according to well-defined criteria.
Identifying which heat events should get names, though, is not as obvious as naming cyclones or hurricanes.
“Although the general public will have a good intuitive understanding of what a heat wave is, objectively defining a heat wave in scientific terms is not a straightforward task,” said Kennedy-Asser of the University of Bristol.
“How extreme must a heat wave be to deserve a name?” he wondered.
The World Meteorological Organization, the U.N. group that coordinates global weather observation, has said that while it has “no immediate plans” to name heat waves, it recognizes the interest and is considering the pros and cons.
The WMO acknowledged the potential problems of ad hoc naming. “Independent practices to rank and name heat waves which are not coordinated with the official warning systems, may risk disrupting civil protection protocols and coordination efforts, bring unintended negative consequences, or reduce the effectiveness of established heat advisory and response measures,” the organization said in a statement.
Fans and mist keep diners cool during extreme heat in Athens last week. (Yorgos Karahalis/Bloomberg News)
The group stressed that established protocols for hurricanes may not translate to extreme heat, and that heat waves can be reliably forecast in some regions and not others. It worried about raising “false alarms,” especially if named events turn out to be more mild than forecast.
Kathy Baughman McLeod is the director of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, which has been pushing to name and categorize heat waves. She said that these soaring temperatures appear as almost “silent events” that need “PR and branding” to save lives.
Scientists say as many as 61,000 people died as a result heat in Europe last year.
Baughman McLeod said that weather and public health agencies should coordinate and focus on how to categorize heat waves by severity — by nighttime temperatures (needed to cool the body), cloud cover, humidity and three-day average forecasts.
Her group has been running a pilot program in Seville, the beautiful but notoriously hot tourist city in southern Spain.
So far, the municipality has had three named events: Zoe in July 2022, Yago last month and Xenia this month. The idea is to work backward through the alphabet, using relatively uncommon names. Next on the list? Wenceslao and Vega.
“Early evidence show it works,” said Baughman McLeod, adding that the project is preparing a research paper for publication. She said surveys suggest people in Seville who could remember the name of a heat wave were more likely to have taken action to protect themselves.
“Nobody has to die from heat waves,” she said.
Tourists visit the Acropolis on Thursday during a heat wave in Athens. (Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
Stefano Pitrelli in Rome contributed to this report.
More on extreme heat
Our warming climate: As more heat records are expected to fall,July will be Earth’s hottest month on record.Here’s why the sweltering heat wave isn’t moving anytime soon. At Earth’s hottest spots, heat is testing the limits of human survival. Look up your city to see your extreme heat risk with our tracker. Take a look at what extreme heat does to the human body.
How to stay safe: It’s better to prepare for extreme heat before you’re in it. Here’s our guide to bracing for a heat wave, tips for staying cool even if you don’t have air conditioning, and what to know about animal safety during extreme heat. Traveling during a heat wave isn’t ideal, but here’s what to do if you are.
Understanding the science: Sprawling zones of high pressure called heat domes fuel heat waves. Here’s how they work. You can also read more about the link between weather disasters and climate change, and how leaders in the U.S. and Europe are responding to heat.
Here are some other “ET’s” recorded from around the planet the last couple of days, their consequences, and some extreme temperature outlooks, as well as any extreme precipitation reports:
Here is more new June and July 2023 climatology:
Here is more climate and news from Saturday:
(As usual, this will be a fluid post in which more information gets added during the day as it crosses my radar, crediting all who have put it on-line. Items will be archived on this site for posterity. In most instances click on the pictures of each tweet to see each article. The most noteworthy items will be listed first.)