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The controversy surrounding the naming of heatwaves

Written by
Poppy Stringer
min read
August 14, 2023

Heat waves are unfortunately becoming more and more frequent as global temperatures continue to rise. They are often given seemingly random and sometimes even amusing names, such as Charon and Cerberus, which are two of the most recent heat waves that swept across Europe. Charon and Cerberus are two mythological creatures, Charon is known as the ferryman of the underworld and Cerberus is the three-headed dog who guarded the gates of the underworld. 

Whilst these names may seem amusing to the public there have been large rows amongst Weather Organisations over these names and the naming of heatwaves in general. 

The process of naming heat waves varies from one region or country to another. Unlike hurricanes and storms, which have a standard naming system coordinated by international meteorological organisations, heatwave naming lacks a universal protocol. Instead, national meteorological agencies, research institutions, or climate-related organisations often take the lead in assigning names to heatwaves.

This has led to disputes over heatwave names, such as Charon and Cerberus, as organisations such as the World Meteorological Organization argue that these trivial names take away from the severity of the situation and the threat that heatwaves pose to the public. 

However, others disagree as they believe that providing these periods of soaring temperatures with names helps in enhancing public awareness and understanding of these extreme weather events. Just as naming hurricanes and cyclones aids in communication, heatwave names allow meteorologists, news outlets, and government agencies to efficiently communicate the severity and impact of the event to the public. Furthermore, named heat waves can be more memorable and relatable, encouraging people to take necessary precautions.

Currently, heatwaves are primarily named by a few national weather bodies and environmental organisations to underscore their gravity. Official weather bodies are reluctant to name heatwaves themselves due to the reasons previously mentioned but also due to the intricate nature of heatwaves and the difficulty in unpicking one event from another. Heatwaves are often not distinct events but can merge into one another and straddle international borders as weather systems build.

As such, more local authorities have taken to naming the heatwaves such as, the local authority of Seville, Spain, which launched a pilot programme naming heatwaves in June 2022. The recent Cerberus and Charon heatwave was named by Antonio Sanò, a meteorology engineer and the founder of the Italian weather website iLMeteo. Due to the lack of an official body, he assigned the name himself, finding the connotations of the fiery underworld relevant to that of the soaring temperatures. However, this was frowned upon by more reputable organisations as it gave the impression that the heatwaves had been officially named by the Italian Meteorological Society. 

The controversy surrounding the necessity and process of naming heat waves will most likely only worsen as these extreme weather events only become more frequent. The issue itself demonstrates the severity of the climate crisis, as this was a conversation that did not need to be had previously as heat waves were a phenomenon rather than a regular occurrence.

However, as the naming of heat waves becomes a larger and more controversial conversation it will hopefully enhance public awareness, understanding, and preparedness in the face of these extreme heat events. It will also perhaps force there to be more change and action taken to prevent these disasters, allowing us to navigate the challenges of climate change with greater resilience. 

Finally, It signifies the urgent need to acknowledge their dire consequences and adjust our behaviour accordingly. We have the ability to help reverse climate change. All our small actions can create huge positive impacts.

Poppy Stringer

Our eco-conscious blog writer. Passionate about sustainability, she's on a mission to combat ecosystem decline with insightful blogs, driven by her concern for the planet's future.