This year organisers at Royal Ascot horse races announced that they are considering relaxing the strict dress code for the first time in history. And this is because Europe is scorching. This summer, from London to Siberia, stifling heatwaves are razing across the continent in an unprecedented fashion. And this summer is not the exception. Due to climate Change, heatwaves are becoming more and more frequent. And, even if they have been considered a minor hazard that do not affect infrastructures as much as floods, fires or earthquakes, they are still heavily impacting on the population.
Because, although Royal Ascot’s may seem like a funny anecdote, only in UK, this year there were 907 deaths more than the average after the mercury rose to 38.1c. This shows how problematic heatwaves can get, especially for vulnerable sections of the population, such as children, pregnant women or the elderly. And besides their effect in public health, their impact on agriculture can be also devastating as new research points out that they will damage crops, worsening the global food crisis.
But, what can be done to overcome the effects of these waves of extreme temperatures?
To anticipate to any disaster, the best thing you can have at hand is a good prediction. And you may lay aside crystal balls and tarot cards. Or hunches. There are scientific, accurate, and real tools to succeed: the so-called risk models.
Take temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, and rainfall and relate them with some mathematics and you will be able to unravel the risk of a wildfire. Or combine them with a terrain elevation model, soil properties and drainage directions to make your own flood risk model to be prepared when the water rises after the next perfect storm. For heatwaves, maximum temperature is the parameter you need to have under the radar.
Put in this way it could sound straightforward, but creating a risk model is a huge scientific challenge. It takes time to select the correct parameters and design the proper equations that define the process you want to understand to the limit of prediction. Sometimes there are pre-existing models available and tuning them a little bit is easier, as you can add small adjustments and validate them with as much data as you can find. Or you can even be luckier and leverage upon open risk model services where you can extract processed risk information.
In I-REACT we are combining all these options for the most common hazards: floods and fires. We are extracting data from European services (EFAS and EFFIS) and adapting and improving different pre-existing models for these hazards. But for heatwaves we need a brand new solution combining models in a decision-support system. Because, although fires and floods have been studied for several years, heatwaves are the new kid on the block of hazards and there is no European-wide available service or model for this phenomenon. That’s why our partners at Fondazione Bruno Kessler (FBK) are working on one of the first European-wide heatwaves geospatial risk maps. And novelty always comes with extra challenges: combining 32 years of temperature data with high resolution 14 days forecast for real-time emergency surveillance.
It is expected that by the end of the year, we will have up-and-running our top-notch geospatial risk models for fires, floods and heatwaves. Altogether, they will be a the most complete tool to date to anticipate these hazards.
Until then, please, follow the common instructions: drink water frequently, restrict activities in the open air to morning and evening, when possible remain in the shade and find something fresh that suits you for the horse’s races.