May 28, 2023

Heat waves may now get names. The first is Zoe – in Spain

2 min read

After temperatures reached a high of 112 degrees Fahrenheit in Spain, scientists for the first time gave a heat wave a name – all in the name of protecting public health. 

The heat wave, named Zoe, was recorded July 24-27 in the city of Seville, in southwestern Spain, said José María Martín Olalla, an associate professor in the department of condensed matter physics at Sevilla University.

The naming of heat wave Zoe came about because of the proMETEO Sevilla Project, a pilot program officially launched in June to rank heat waves and teach the public about them. Collaborating on the initiative is the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center of the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based research center and non-profit organization. 

The group created the naming and ranking system to alert locals and “prevent the hazards of exposure to the heat during the afternoon,” Martín Olalla told USA TODAY. It eventually could serve as a model for other cities and governments. Weather experts normally alternate between female and male names and start in alphabetical order, but in reverse, hence how this first heat wave got the name Zoe. Although the people of Seville are accustomeused to heat, the hot temperatures seem to be happening more frequently and lasting longer, he said. There has also been a rain drought in Spain and other parts of Europe over the past few months.

Seville experienced a heat wave because recent temperatures matched or surpassed 106 degrees Fahrenheit, a mark higher than 95% of the daily highs over more than the past 20 years, Martín Olalla said. Between July 24 and 25, the maximum daily temperature in Seville was about 112 degrees Fahrenheit. Even the minimum daily temperature was high at 84 degrees, he said.

“Every summer there are some days in Seville with temperatures above this threshold,” Martín Olalla said. “It is not incredibly rare.”

But this summer, the city has experienced daily maximum temperatures above or close to 106 degrees for about two weeks. “In this sense, what is incredibly rare was the amount of days above the threshold,” he said. 

The team issued alerts, warnings and other messages on social media to let people know how they could protect themselves.

In one tweet, the organization said staying hydrated is important during high temperatures because it can prevent heat stroke.