California will name and classify heat waves – should Australia follow suit? | Australia weather

California has become the latest jurisdiction to put in place a system that would classify and name heat waves as cyclones or hurricanes, raising questions whether Australia should adopt a similar system to reduce heat-related deaths. .

Following the recent example of Greece and the city of Seville in Spain, California authorities will introduce a bill in January to develop the filing system.

The proposed system works by naming heat waves and categorizing them similar to cyclones, but instead of being temperature coded, they will be classified according to their risk to human health – and more specifically, the risk of death.

For example, a Category 1 heat wave can occur when the daily death rate is expected to increase by 10% on a normal day, with Category 2 and 3 heat waves increasing further.

When a category 3 heat wave is declared, it could lead to the opening to the public of swimming pools and air-conditioned shelters, the activation of registration services for the elderly, or the ban for public service companies. to cut off electricity during heat waves to ensure access to air conditioning.

Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, climatologist at UNSW Canberra’s ARC Center of Excellence for Climate Extremes, said it was a “great idea” that should be adopted in Australia.

“I think to name [weather events] helps people connect with them on a personal level. It personifies him, ”Perkins-Kirkpatrick said. “But for example, Cyclone Tracy – just the name itself conjures up how bad it was and the impact it had.

“It is also an exercise in scientific communication. It helps people say, “Oh, there is a heat wave, I have to take cover and do this or that.”

Dr Alistair Hobday, a researcher at CSIRO who was part of the team that proposed an informal system used to categorize and name marine heat waves, said he was cautious about naming the systems, but the value of the Californian approach was the way she suggested action. .

“I think we’re going to see a lot of people in Australia going through things they’ve never experienced and they won’t know how to react. This will help manage that risk, ”Hobday said.

“Right now, it’s up to individuals to decide, but we know that the wealthiest individuals survive events better than the poorest individuals because they have more resources. Legislating this will require that resources be made available to all. “

Australians may be very familiar with heatwaves, but Perkins-Kirkpatrick said many people were unaware of how dangerous they were or their role as “the country’s deadliest natural disaster”.

“Heat waves kill more people in Australia than all other natural disasters combined in the long term,” she said. “And a fun fact: more people die on January 27 from the heatwave than on any other day of the year, because it is the day after Australian Day.

“Everyone is dehydrated, they are in the sun, they have had beers, their bodies are starting to heat stroke and they are rushed to hospital.”

The Bureau of Meteorology does not currently intend to adopt a naming convention for heat waves, but publishes a heatwave intensity map, run a forecasting service and already categorizes heat waves by intensity.

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Formalizing this has sometimes proved tricky, as defining the length, width and areas affected by a heat wave is not easy – a Category 3 heat wave can be declared in Melbourne but a Category heat wave 2 can occur in Geelong during the same event.

There is no global standard for what makes a heat wave, although in Australia it is defined as three or more consecutive days when daytime and nighttime temperatures are unusually high compared to local conditions and recent history.

The good news, Perkins-Kirkpatrick said, is that with the work being done by the Bureau of Meteorology, Australia was already “halfway” to putting such a system in place.

“We’ve only had a heat wave forecast for about a decade here. The office did a damn good job of fixing this, ”she said. “I think it’s a great idea, and it’s something we have to defend. It’s not easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.


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