The UK should name heatwaves to help protect those most vulnerable to temperature extremes, say leading UK scientists.
The searing heat, which began five days ago, has left the NHS struggling to cope, with all 10 of England’s ambulance services at the highest alert level.
The Met Office has extended its amber alert for extreme heat for a further 24 hours until next Tuesday night, warning that the potentially record-breaking temperatures are likely to cause serious illness and endanger lives.
Scientists agree that climate change is increasing the frequency, severity and duration of heatwaves. And some modelling has even raised the prospect that temperatures in the UK could hit a record 40C.
The Spanish city of Seville last month launched a pilot project naming heatwaves, with three categories to alert the population up to five days in advance of extreme heat.
And now the London-based Physiological Society is calling for them to be named in the same way as storms are, as an early-warning system.
The society says it would raise awareness that there is a risk to health and that people “cannot expect to continue as normal”.
The Physiological Society, Europe’s largest group of experts on how the body works, proposes the idea in a report highlighting policy priorities for the government in view of the effect of climate change on human health.
The UK Met Office and its Irish counterpart Met Eireann name storms alphabetically to raise awareness of them. The most recent storm, in February, was called Franklin, and the next one will be Gladys.
Mike Tipton, of the Physiological Society, said: “Just like preparing for a storm in winter, people need to take action to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
“As part of raising awareness of the threat from heatwaves in the UK, heatwaves should be named in the same was as we name storms.
“It makes the risk to health clear and that people can’t expect to continue as normal during the heatwave.
“This will aid the communication of approaching heatwaves through the media and government agencies.
“This is especially helpful for those who don’t have as ready access to the internet or weather apps on smartphones.”
Prof Tipton said better knowledge could also help in smart building design and urban development.
The report calls for more research into physiological responses to heat and more research funding for sustainable proteins as an alternative to meat, since animal agriculture produces more than 145 million tonnes a year globally of methane emissions – an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
A Met Office spokesman said storms appear on a chart and can be tracked with satellite pictures, whereas the boundaries of heatwaves are much more blurred.
The Met Office already issues heat health alerts, and last year introduced the system of heat warnings, he said. Amber warnings must appear on television forecasters’ maps.