Spain has named its heatwave ‘Zoe’. As extreme weather events increase, is it time for Australia to follow suit?

Heatwaves are our deadliest natural hazard, but at the moment they are a nameless and often silent killer.

But change could be afoot — Spain has just named a heatwave for the first time.

So could naming heatwaves help to give the creeping killer more gravitas and cause people to act?

Or would attempting to name the highly variable and location dependent phenomena cause more confusion and dilute the effectiveness of cyclone and other warnings?

Record-breaking heatwaves have gripped the northern hemisphere this season.(Reuters: Henry Nicholls)

Why would we want to name heatwaves?

Monash University School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment associate professor Ailie Gallant says because heatwaves are a “bit of a quiet disaster”, they are not thought of as “immediately catastrophic”.

“But when we think about injuries in terms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion, and when we look at heat-related mortality, they really are the most deadly natural disaster,” she said.

“In that sense, I think if we can bring an awareness to the event as it’s happening – and if that helps by giving it a name – that can only be a good thing, really.”

University of Melbourne climate scientist Andrew King is on board with the concept.

“We name other types of extreme weather – notably tropical cyclones – and this does draw attention to their impacts and allows people the ability to more easily track them when they’re approaching and understand how the risks change as the forecast changes,” he said .

“I think there’s value in drawing attention to severe weather in general, and naming severe heat events might help people become more prepared, hopefully, and aware of their impacts.”

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