Zoe, Xenia, Cleon and Cerberus.
You might have heard these names come up recently. They don’t belong to people. Rather they are monikers appointed to heat waves around the world.
Cerberus is the most recent name for the heat wave currently burning through southern Europe. In Greek mythology, Cerberus is a ferocious three-headed dog that guards the gates of the Underworld.
A number of European countries have reported blistering heat of over 40 degrees Celsius the past few days. The continent experienced similar dangerous temperatures last summer as well, which led to the first naming of a heat wave: “Zoe” in Seville, Spain.
The city implemented its first ranking and naming system on the first day of summer last year, which involved dividing heat waves into three tiers based on their impact on human health. According to a 2021 news release from the City of Seville, each tier would elicit a different response from the city, such as opening air conditioned shelters or adding extra staff to emergency rooms.
The naming system runs in reverse alphabetical order and uses recognizably Spanish-sounding names. After Zoe, the heat waves that are in the highest, Category Three tier would be called Yago, Xenia, Wenceslao and Vega.
“Seville is proud to become the first city in the world to develop and implement a heat wave naming and categorization system that aims at saving thousands of lives, and we encourage other cities in the world to also undertake this great endeavor,” said Mayor Juan Espadas in the release.
The release argues that having a naming convention for extreme heat allows the weather event to have the same meteorological treatment and attention that hurricanes and tropical storms command in many parts of the world.
According to proMETEO Sevilla, which pioneered the naming and classification system in Seville, heat waves have the greatest impact on people’s lives over any other meteorological phenomenon. They say that categorizing heat waves based on criteria, and naming those with a greater risk allows people to take the measures they need to protect themselves.
“It is also a first step for administrations to work on resilience to heat waves… to take measures so that they have the least possible impact on people’s daily lives and on strategic sectors for the economy,” the project says on their website.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), on the other hand, said last year that they have no plans of naming heat waves.
The organization said in a website post that they acknowledge naming dangerous weather events such as tropical storms are necessary to avoid misnaming and “to coordinate the naming of transboundary or regional scale events.”
However, they say these precautions may not translate easily to heat waves.
“Caution should be exercised when comparing or applying lessons or protocols from one hazard type to another, due to the important differences in the physical nature and impacts of storms and heatwaves,” the organization said.
“To protect communities from avoidable heat-related illness the public should be aware of actions to take during extreme heat events, as well as recognize their personal vulnerability factors, such as age, medications, or medical conditions which can make prolonged exposure to heat even below heatwave thresholds also deadly.”
A study published by Nature Medicine on July 10 estimates that nearly 62,000 people died in Europe as a result of the extreme year last year.
Europe’s heatwave last year spilled northward to Britain, where authorities warned of possible record temperatures, and fueled ferocious wildfires in France, which scrambled water-bombing planes and hundreds of firefighters to battle flames spreading through tinder-dry forests.
In Spain, two people were killed in blazes that the country’s prime minister linked to global warming, saying: “Climate change kills.”
With files from The Associated Press.
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