Met Office issued ‘extreme heat’ warnings after record heatwave deaths in 2020
The Met Office issued weather warnings for extreme heat after a record number of heat wave deaths were recorded in England last summer.
Dr Will Lang of the Met Office told a Local Government Association (LGA) virtual briefing that red and orange warnings can now be issued for areas expecting unusually high temperatures.
It comes as Public Health England (PHE) recorded 2,256 additional deaths from all causes in the country during the three periods officially classified as “heat waves” last summer – the highest number since the start of their records in 2004.
The deaths were recorded between June 23 and 27, July 30 to August 1, and August 5 to 15.
Some 1,734 of those deaths were recorded in the 10-day window in August alone.
Excess deaths are calculated by comparing the average number of deaths on heatwave days against the average of the previous and subsequent seven-day periods.
This includes an adjustment for coronavirus-related mortality.
Dr Will Lang, head of civilian contingencies at the Met Office, said the service was being launched as heat was becoming “much more of a problem” due to climate change.
He told the conference: “We know heat is becoming more and more of a problem… so we will be able to issue what we call ‘extreme heat warnings’ if necessary this summer and even for the following summers.
“These will be taken into account for the most extreme heat episodes like the one we saw last August, so around 30 ° C during the day and 20 ° C at night, and that persists for a few days or more.
“What we’re doing is highlighting the impact on the general population of heat and also the likely disruption of infrastructure – things like transportation and power grids.”
He added: “The implication of climate change, which is already seen in the way temperatures rise, of having such periods in summer may become the new normal.”
The warnings will coordinate with existing PHE thermal health alerts, which are designed to alert medical professionals.
Dr Owen Landeg, scientific manager of extreme events and health protection at PHE, said excessive deaths last summer were recorded across England and heat-related deaths are expected to triple by ‘by 2050.
“It’s not just London or the South East – we have seen excessive deaths in all parts of England except Yorkshire and the Humber and the North East region of England,” did he declare.
Dr Landeg added: “By 2050, we expect heat-related deaths to triple.
“Each year we see an average of around 2,000 deaths right now, and this is expected to increase to over 7,000 by 2050.”
High temperatures increase the risk of death because the body has to circulate blood faster to stay cool, which can strain the heart and lungs.
This can trigger heat stroke and life-threatening cardiovascular and respiratory disease.
People over 65, people with underlying health conditions, and people unable to adapt to their surroundings such as young children and patients with Alzheimer’s disease especially suffer from the effects of extreme heat.