Met Office should name heatwaves to convey their dangers

Greater risk of deadly heatwaves due to climate change is not being taken seriously enough, says Grantham Research Institute

The Met Office must do more to warn people about the dangers of heatwaves and should give names to heatwaves the way it does for winter storms, the Grantham Research Institute at London School of Economics and Political Science has said today.

As the UK prepares to endure another bout of hot weather – including the possibility of the hottest July day ever on Thursday – Bob Ward, director of policy at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, has today warned that the Met Office and the media are among those failing to communicate that the risks of heatwaves in the UK are growing as a consequence of climate change.

Public Health England has estimated that there were 863 “excess deaths” during three heatwave periods last summer, which was the warmest on record in England.

Last year a committee of MPs issued a report warning that the UK was “woefully unprepared” for the increasing risk of heatwaves due to climate change, with sick and elderly people especially vulnerable to heart and breathing problems. Earlier this month, the Committee on Climate Change earlier also warned: “Homes are not adapted for current or future high temperatures, there is a lack of awareness of the risks to health from high indoor temperatures, and a lack of appropriate planning in health and social care”.

To make the dangers of heatwaves clear, Mr Ward has called for the Met Office to start naming heatwaves like it does for winter storms.

In 2015, the Met Office started to name storms that were likely to have a significant impact in order to “aid the communication of approaching severe weather”.

Heatwaves do not currently receive official names, though a heatwave across parts of Europe during summer 2017 was nicknamed ‘Lucifer’.

Mr Ward also criticised the Met Office for using two different definitions of heat waves on its website, with an official definition for heatwaves that does not match the ‘heat-health watch’ system it has with Public Health England.

According to this definition, a heatwave officially occurs when a location records a period of at least three consecutive days with daily maximum temperatures meeting or exceeding the heatwave temperature threshold, which varies by UK county between 25 and 28 degrees Celsius.

By contrast, the ‘Heat-health watch’, also on the Met Office’s website lists “heatwave threshold values” between 28 and 32 degrees Celsius for different regions of the UK.

Bob Ward said: “Far more people in the UK have died from recent heatwaves than from storms, so it should be uncontroversial to start applying names to both.

He added: “The Government and its agencies, including the Met Office, must lead the way in communicating the growing dangers of heatwaves and other impacts of climate change, so that the British public are better informed and can protect themselves. If the Government does not lead on this issue, it also risks encouraging the media to continue to underplay these risks in their coverage, and there will continue to be preventable deaths.”

For more information about this media release please contact Kieran Lowe on +44 (0) 20 7107 5442 or k.lowe@lse.ac.uk or Bob Ward on +44 (0) 7811 320346 or r.e.ward@lse.ac.uk.

 

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (http://www.lse.ac.uk/grantham) was launched at the London School of Economics and Political Science in October 2008. It is funded by The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment (http://www.granthamfoundation.org/).

 

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