‘Zoe’ Becomes the World’s First Named Heat Wave

Seville, Spain has implemented a new heat wave naming system to raise awareness of these “silent killers”

A firefighter stands in front of a wildfire
A firefighter battles a wildfire near Zamora, northern Spain, on July 18, 2022 during an extreme heat wave in Europe.  Miguel Riopa / AFP via Getty Images)

“Zoe,” the world’s first named heat wave, hit Seville, Spain last week, pushing temperatures over 110 degrees Fahrenheit. 

On the first day of summer this year, the city implemented its new ranking and naming system, similar to how tropical cyclones are categorized. Heat waves will be divided into three tiers based on specific criteria, with each eliciting a different response from the city, such as extending pool hours or deploying community health workers to check on vulnerable people, reports Ciara Nugent for Time magazine. The heat waves in the highest tier, Category 3, will receive names. Following Zoe, heat waves will be called Yago, Xenia, Wenceslao and Vega. 

“Extreme heat waves are becoming more frequent and devastating as a direct effect from climate change,” Seville’s former mayor, Juan Espadas, said in a statement last year. “Seville is proud to become the first city in the world to develop and implement a heat wave naming and categorization system that aims at saving thousands of lives and we encourage other cities in the world to also undertake this great endeavor.” 

While there’s no worldwide consensus on what exactly constitutes a heat wave, Time reports that countries use the term to refer to time periods with temperatures higher than the average. 

Naming heat waves will help build a “culture of awareness,” Kathy Baughman McLeod, senior vice president and director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, which helped design Seville’s system, said in the statement. 

“Heat waves have been dubbed ‘the silent killer’ for a reason: 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,” she said. “Yet the dangers they pose are grossly underestimated and gravely misunderstood.”

Zoe follows an extreme heat wave that hit Europe last month, shattering records and killing an estimated 510 people across Spain between July 10 and July 16, per Time. The high temperatures also sparked wildfires across the continent. 

In the U.S., heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths. Some groups in California have pushed for the state to start naming its heat waves to help give them urgency. Greek scientists have proposed a similar system

“We believe people will be more prepared to face an upcoming weather event when the event has a name,” Kostas Lagouvardos, research director at the National Observatory of Athens, told the Observer last year. “They’ll become more aware of the possible problems it could cause to their lives and to their properties.”

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