Seville, a city of 700,000 in southern Spain, is already facing its fourth major heat wave of the summer, part of a record-breaking season of high temperatures across Europe. But this one’s a little different.
Seville’s current heat wave is the first in the world to get an official name: Zoe. Last month, the city government launched a new heat wave categorization system, designed to monitor not just high temperatures but also how they interact with other factors, such as humidity and time of day, to worsen potential health impacts.
The system sorts heat events into three tiers, with each one triggering certain measures in the city’s emergency and disaster response plans, including the deployment of community health workers to check on vulnerable people, or lengthening the opening hours for city pools. The highest tier will also get names, like hurricanes do in the U.S., in a bid to boost public awareness.
Heat wave Zoe will cause daytime highs above 43°C (109°F). It is expected to last until Tuesday, July 26. Heatwaves Yago, Xenia, Wenceslao, and Vega, could follow in its footsteps later this summer.
There is no single scientific definition of a heat wave; countries with different climates use the term to describe periods of temperatures that are higher than local averages. Summer of 2022 has seen an unusually high number of heat waves across the northern hemisphere in particular, in countries including Spain, Portugal, France, Iran, China, India, and the U.S.
As heat waves become more frequent and intense due to climate change, Seville’s hope is that naming them will make people, businesses, and government departments take the risks of heat more seriously. Earlier this month, an estimated 510 people died across Spain from heat-related causes during another heat wave between July 10 and 16, according to estimates by the Carlos III Health Institute, a public research body.
Hearing “Heat wave Zoe is coming” rather than “it’s going to be extremely hot” could make more people listen to health warnings during heat waves, and remember to do things like avoiding exertion, drinking water, or checking on elderly relatives, potentially reducing death tolls.
It’s too early to tell if Seville’s experiment will work. But Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, the U.S.-based think tank that helped design Seville’s system, says she hopes “this pilot will serve as a model for other leaders and governments to follow. People do not have to die from heat.”
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