A woman fans herself during the first heatwave of the year in Seville, Spain June 11, 2022. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo
The southern Spanish city of Seville is to become the first in the world to name and classify heatwaves – much in the way that tropical storms or hurricanes are named – in an effort to better shield residents as periods of excessively hot weather become more frequent.
The year-long pilot project in one of Spain's hottest cities will classify heatwaves into three categories and named from a list that include Xenia and Wenceslao.
The initiative is part of a broader set of measures, from emissions reductions to decarbonisation, aimed at countering climate change, said the city's mayor, Antonio Muñoz.
"We are the first city in the world to take a step that will help us plan and take measures when this type of meteorological event happens – particularly because heatwaves always hit the most vulnerable,” Muñoz noted in a statement last week.
The pioneering programme comes days after Spain sweltered through one of its earliest heatwaves on record and after a May that ranked as the hottest in 58 years. The frequency of heatwaves in Spain has doubled compared with previous decades, according to state meteorological agency Aemet.
Seville, where temperatures often climb above 40C, is about 100 miles from the town of Montoro where the mercury last year climbed to Spain's highest-ever temperature at 47.4C.
Central to the pilot is an algorithm that will forecast heatwaves up to five days in advance and categorise them based on the potential impact on human health and mortality. Each category will be tied to specific measures such as the opening of municipal swimming pools or sending health workers to check on elderly or other at-risk individuals.
Heatwaves that reach category 3 – the most severe – will be named in descending order of the Spanish alphabet. The first five names have already been chosen: Zoe, Yago, Xenia, Wenceslao, Vega.
The project is being launched in conjunction with the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Centre, or Arsht-Rock, which focuses on building resilience in the face of climate change, along with climatologists, social and behavioural scientists and public health experts.
The centre is working with seven other cities, in including Melbourne and Greece, on similar plans to categorise or rank heatwaves, though Seville is so far the only city with plans to name heatwaves.
The aim is to build awareness of the deadly impact of climate change and potentially save lives, said Kathy Baughman McLeod of Arsht-Rock in an October statement as plans for the pilot were announced.
"Heatwaves, have been dubbed ‘the silent killer’ for a reason,” said Baughman McLeod. “They wreak unseen havoc on our economies, prey on the most vulnerable members of society, and kill more people than any other climate-driven hazard, yet the dangers they pose are grossly underestimated and gravely misunderstood.”