Why do we not name heatwaves like winter storms?

It's a valid question and it's been raised after a collection of scientists have suggested we should name heatwaves like we name winter storms, but it's not quite that simple...

Firstly, winter storms develop in a completely different way to heatwaves.

Often strong winds and heavy bands of rain are associated with deep areas of low pressure - actual storm systems. These can occur frequently and in certain set ups can line up charging towards the UK on the jet stream acting like a conveyer belt.

These storm systems can rapidly develop and deepen, in a process known as explosive cyclogenisis where the centre of the storm drops in pressure by 24 millibars or more in 24 hours.

Storms are given names to raise awareness of the impacts likely to occur and to ensure the messaging of the storm is clear and understandable. There are international and regional protocols and thresholds, which are followed to help communicate the risk of the different types of storms and tropical cyclones/hurricanes.

Storm Ciara brought strong damaging winds to the UK on 9th February 2020 Credit: ITV Weather

The impacts brought about by storm systems are different to those produced from heatwaves. For this reason we can not just apply the same rules and naming conventions for heatwaves as storms. Thresholds are different for each country when it comes to dealing with heat and heatwaves.

To put it simply, strong damaging winds leading to loss of life from falling trees in France and Spain cause the same problem here in the UK, making naming a storm viable. Whereas, a hot 35°C in Spain, doesn't have the same impact as 35°C heat here in the UK.

Climate Change and naming heatwaves

As heatwaves become more common and higher temperatures more extreme, it is possible the World Meteorological Organisation may consider producing guidance for naming heatwaves.

The Met Office has said "such a development [for naming heatwaves] would need to be a globally coordinated and therefore, there would need to be a wide reaching evaluation of the effectiveness, benefits and affordability of such a system".