How can better short-term heat wave predictions save more lives?

Over the last 30 years, extreme heat events have killed more people in the United States than any other weather-related phenomenon. Heat waves can take a dire toll on health and economic well-being around the world. To help address this challenge, Hannah Nissan, a postdoctoral research fellow at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, and her colleagues have proposed a precise definition for heat waves in Bangladesh, a critical first step toward an effective warning system in that country.

Looking closely at both health and heat data, Nissan and Katrin Burkart at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health estimated that at least 3,800 people died as a result of an eight-day heat wave in 2008. Two-thirds of those killed were 65 or older. Heat-related illnesses and loss of economic productivity are also significant issues. Once the relationship between heat and human health is established for an area, as in Bangladesh, climate scientists can look for opportunities to predict extreme heat events in a way that can be useful to decision-makers.

“In a changing climate, heat waves are among the most rapidly rising risks, especially affecting the most vulnerable,” said Maarten van Aalst, an adjunct researcher at IRI and a co-author of the study. “There are many simple actions we can take to reduce the impact heatwaves have on people, but we rely on good warning systems, and public awareness. Studies like these are critical to fill these gaps, especially in highly vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh, where the need is highest.” Learn more.

See Nissan talk more about the importance of forecasting heat waves in Bangladesh.


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