standard UK needs better preparation for heat waves


Percentage increase in the number of heat wave events per year between baseline (1961-1990) and 2030s. (Data derived from the UKCP09 Weather Generator (Version 2) under the medium Co2 emissions scenario). BIOPICCC

This summer has in some cases tested the limits of the UK’s ability to endure extreme weather in the form of heat waves.  This will also likely also be a pressing issue for the short and long-term future.  A recent study published in Environment Research Letters predicts that unusually, extreme hot weather events experienced throughout the world will increase in extent and frequency.  WMO (World Meteorological Organisation) have reported on the rise in extreme weather and global temperature and have made similar predictions.  According to the research, five percent of the land area of Earth has experienced heat extremes far beyond the norm for summer.  Researchers note in the study that while certain areas of the world have received the most press coverage of heat wave events, the strongest increase in heat extremes is in the tropics when compared with historic variability.  The Mediterranean has also had a strong increase in climate extremes recently.

In 2020 this land surface area for heat extremes could double and continue to increase to 1/5 of the land area by 2040.  If this does occur it will also increase the likelihood of heat stroke and other health ailments that increase with unusually hot weather.  Incidences of forest fires could also go up.  Health care of one of the UK’s most vulnerable populations, older people, was the focus of IHRR’s BIOPICCC project which found that some areas of the UK likely to experience an increase in extreme weather events, such as heat waves, are also areas projected to have an increase in older populations.  Previous research found a 75% increase of premature deaths due to heat in 1993-2006 among people 75 or over in England and Wales during the summer.

The heat waves that occurred in the UK this summer led to 760 deaths and hospitals reported a rise in A&E admissions.  Trains were  impeded by the heat wave and motor ways shut showing that the UK’s infrastructure is clearly vulnerable to heat waves and that both effective local and national planning needs to be in place to prepare for them.  While future weather is without a doubt extremely difficult to predict, it appears likely that extreme forms of weather could become more common in the short and long-term future.

References and Further Reading

Historic and future increase in the global land area affected by monthly heat extremes. Environment Research Letters

Estimated number of premature deaths attributable to heat in England, July 6‐14th 2013. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Focus: Built Infrastructure for Older People’s Care in Conditions of Climate Change. Hazard Risk Resilience Magazine

Caring for older people in conditions of climate change. IHRR Blog

10 ways the UK is ill-prepared for a heatwave. BBC

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