Greece was hit hard by the scorching heat of this summer. Experts now want to assign heat waves the same names and ranking as hurricanes and tropical storms.
The silent killer is heat, which is why it is sometimes called the silent killer. Although it does not cause as much destruction as storms, tornadoes or fires, it is one the most dangerous forms of extreme weather.
You can't see extreme heat unlike other adverse weather conditions, Kostas Legouvardos from the National Observatory of Athens said to the Guardians sister paper, the Observer. He suggested that policymakers and the general public should be aware of the subtle dangers that heat can pose, and that it could be possible to name heat waves.
He said that people will be better prepared for a weather event if it has a name. They will be more aware of potential problems it may cause to their property and lives.
This month, the need has been shockingly obvious. As Greece suffers its second heat wave, record-breaking temperatures have risen to the triple digits. The country's highest temperature recorded since records began was 115°F (46°C) in the central region of Phthiotis. According to the nation's prime minister, the heat wave was the most severe ecological disaster of the past few decades.
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Extreme heat has dried out the vegetation and set off wildfires that have scorched over 250,000 acres. Three people were killed and thousands fled their homes. Two fires still rage just outside Athens, the capital. Even without wildfires, the heat oppression is still a threat, increasing the likelihood of heat-related diseases like heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
Although heat is a silent killer it is one of the most severe effects of the climate crisis. The United Nations published a major climate report earlier this month, which found that climate change has already increased the likelihood of heat waves by more than two-thirds and will continue to increase over the next decade. This highlights the need to adapt, and naming heatwaves could help people understand the dangers they present.
Lagouvardos proposes that heat waves with temperatures above 104°F (40°C) for longer than one week be named and categorized. This could prove more difficult for heat than winter storms or typhoons, as a ranking scale would need to consider factors such as temperature distribution and population density. It could be simpler in other ways. Heat waves, in terms of severity and duration, are more predictable than storms.
Experts in medical and global climate science have long advocated that severe heat waves be given names and rankings. A number of researchers, city governments and non-profit organizations created the Extreme Heat Resilience Initiative last year with this purpose.
These recommendations will be implemented by Greece, making it the first country in the world. Athens was the first European city to appoint a chief heating officer to help it adapt to the oppressive heat. Eleni Myrivili was the appointee and she told The Observer that she supports the naming of heat waves.
She said that the whole idea of making heat waves visible by naming them and categorizing them according to severity would be a breakthrough.