CLIMATEWIRE | Seville, Spain, has officially launched a new pilot program to address deadly heat waves. The program, unveiled yesterday on the summer solstice, introduces a system for naming and ranking heat waves in much the same way as hurricanes.

It’s the first city in the world to implement such a program, according to organizers. And it’s launching just in time for another record-breaking hot season.

Spain has been grappling with extreme temperatures for weeks. A sizzling heat wave last month sent temperatures soaring across the southern part of the country — in some places rising nearly 30 degrees Fahrenheit above the average for that time of year. The city of Jaén broke 104 degrees, a record for the month of May.

Another heat wave scorched Spain and other parts of Europe last week, with temperatures once again soaring well over 100 degrees in some cities. According to the Spanish meteorological service, the first two weeks of June were the hottest ever recorded in Spain.

The heat is both unusually early for the season and unusually persistent, the agency pointed out. The latest heat wave lingered for around nine days.

Extreme heat is one of the deadliest forms of severe weather. In the United States, it kills more people than any other type of weather event, including hurricanes or floods.

Yet heat-related deaths are also highly preventable, experts say.

Extreme heat disproportionately affects certain vulnerable populations, including elderly people, unhoused people, people without air conditioning and people with underlying health conditions. The danger can be managed with public messaging campaigns, early warning systems, expanded access to air conditioning and cooling centers, protections for people who work outdoors and other interventions.

“The exciting thing about addressing extreme heat is that you can do something about it,” Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center (Arsht-Rock), said in an interview. “People do not need to die from heat.”

The pilot program in Seville is a collaboration between the city government and Arsht-Rock’s Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance, an initiative designed to combat deadly urban heat. Other partners include several Spanish universities and research institutes, the Spanish Office for Climate Change and sustainable development initiative El Día Después.

The Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance encourages local governments and weather agencies around the world to set up heat wave naming and ranking systems. Doing so, it argues, can raise public awareness about the dangers of extreme heat and help communities implement better emergency response plans.

Seville announced its plans for the new program last October. In the months since, the partner organizations have worked with scientists and other advisers to develop a methodology for naming and ranking heat waves.

The new system introduces three categories for extreme heat, ranging from the lowest at Category 1 to the most severe at Category 3. The system takes in account different variables when ranking heat events, including daytime and nighttime temperatures, humidity and expected health impacts on residents of Seville.

Each tier triggers public services, including weather alerts and public health information campaigns, as well as other emergency response efforts such as opening cooling centers and sending community health teams to check on high-risk populations.

Heat waves that reach Category 3 will be assigned names. The pilot program already has designated a list of five names to be assigned this season in reverse alphabetical order: Zoe, Yago, Xenia, Wenceslao and Vega.

They’ll begin with the next heat wave to meet the naming criteria.

“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 heat waves always hit the most vulnerable,” Antonio Muñoz, mayor of Seville, said in a statement.

The partners are putting in place a 12-month plan for the pilot, according to Baughman McLeod. They’ll likely make an assessment midway through and report on the program’s results in November at the United Nations’ annual climate change conference.

“We’ve got decades and decades of scientific experience in the science panel who helped put these methodologies together and really strong expectations of its performance,” Baughman McLeod said. “But we’ll make sure. It is a pilot, and I’m sure there will be some things that need to be corrected.”

Though Seville is the first city to implement both a naming and ranking system, other cities are pursuing similar efforts in collaboration with Arsht-Rock.

Athens, Greece, announced yesterday an initiative to categorize heat waves using a three-tiered approach. It doesn’t plan to add a naming component, but the ranking system will include emergency response components, much like the program in Seville.

A handful of U.S. cities also have launched pilot programs for ranking heat waves. Those include Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Miami and Kansas City, Mo.

Spain’s record temperatures this spring are a reminder of the dangers of extreme heat and the importance of preparing for future events, Baughman McLeod said.

“This is urgent,” she said. “This is really urgent.”

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.