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Naming heat waves may help warn of the risks associated with them

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

We're accustomed to giving hurricanes human names. What if heat waves, though, got the same treatment?

KATHY BAUGHMAN MCLEOD: Because heat is invisible and silent, it doesn't have the drama of the hurricane and the tornado and the flood. It needs extra identification and branding.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Kathy Baughman McLeod at the Atlantic Council says heat waves need more attention because they can be deadlier and more costly than other climate-fueled disasters.

MCLEOD: We assessed the heat's impact to the U.S. economy in 2020. And it was $100 billion in one dimension alone - in worker productivity losses. And that will go up to a half a trillion dollars in 2050 if we don't make changes.

MARTINEZ: She also wants heat waves to be categorized like hurricanes, to let people know it's not business as usual.

MCLEOD: You don't expect the pizza delivery to come to bring you a pizza during a Category 3 hurricane. And yet in heat that's uncategorized and unnamed, invisible, we expect for things to go on, workers to go on working outside.

MARTIN: Around the world, meteorologists and public health officials are working on this in cities as far apart as Los Angeles and Athens, Greece. There's even a proposal before California lawmakers to create a heat scale that works statewide.

MCLEOD: In all the focus groups that we've done, people land on human names and will respond to human names. And so where the categorization is a scientific process of meteorology, climatology and health data, the naming of heat waves is behavioral science.

MARTINEZ: Giving people in the path of scorching heat a chance to prepare and help prevent disastrous outcomes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ASTRONAUTICA'S "TWILIGHT INTERLUDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.