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


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.


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.

MARTÍNEZ: 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.

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