Guy Walton said he chose the naming system “to shame them in the process and to identify culprits that are exacerbating these deadly systems.” A heat wave in Arizona. US National Science Foundation archive photo.
As the USA bakes, former meteorologist names heatwaves after oil companies
by Olivia Rosane — Common Dreams
As more than a fifth of the US population braces for air temperatures or heat indices of more than 105°F this weekend, one former meteorologist has an idea for how to remind the public who is to blame: name major heatwaves after fossil fuel companies.
Guy Walton, who once worked for The Weather Channel, now runs a blog dedicated to monitoring extreme weather. He has dubbed the heatwave that began over California in early July and has now stretched all the way to the southeast Heatwave Chevron.
“I’m naming heatwaves to highlight this worsening climate problem and perhaps save lives by getting the public to focus on this weather threat,” he wrote in an April blog post. “This year I’m naming major heatwaves after oil companies to shame them in the process and to identify culprits that are exacerbating these deadly systems.”
“Heat extremes have increased in likelihood and intensity worldwide due to climate change, with tens of thousands of deaths directly attributable.”
Heatwaves are the deadliest type of extreme weather event in the United States, according to The Weather Channel, killing more people on average each year than tornadoes or hurricanes put together. Yet they do not receive names like hurricanes or wildfires, and some experts have argued that changing this might help people take them more seriously and save lives. For example, the city of Seville, Spain, has become one of the first to start ranking and naming heatwaves with a view toward encouraging the public to take greater precautions.
“It seems to be working as we intended from last year—and has actually started to change some behavior,” Kurt Shickman, director of Arsht-Rock’s heat initiative, told E&E News in June.
Heatwaves are also the extreme weather event most clearly attributable to the climate crisis caused primarily by the burning of oil, gas, and coal, a 2022 study found.
“Heat extremes have increased in likelihood and intensity worldwide due to climate change, with tens of thousands of deaths directly attributable,” the study authors wrote.
So far this year, Walton has named three US heatwaves after fossil fuel companies, moving down a list he proposed in April, along with Category 1 to 5 ranking system modeled after the Saffir-Simpson scale for hurricanes.
The first, Heatwave Amoco in the Pacific Northwest, briefly reached Category 3 status in May and damaged Canadian oil and gas production by igniting wildfires.
“Perhaps Mother Nature is trying to tell us go leave fossil fuels in the ground, otherwise heatwaves like Amoco or worse with more smoke choking wildfires will be an end result,” Walton wrote at the time.
Next came Heatwave British Petroleum, which reached Category 4 status and baked Texas, parts of the Southwest, and Mexico in June. The heatwave was made at least five times more likely by the climate crisis, Climate Central calculated.
One Wednesday, the city of Phoenix, Arizona, reported its 20th day in a row of temperatures 110°F, as well as its highest all-time daily average temperature at 108°F, according to the local branch of the National Weather Service (NWS). Tucson, Arizona, also broke a record for the number of days over 110°F in a year, at 11.
“Will we break this record again tomorrow?” NWS Tucson asked.
On the same day, the NWS Austin/San Antonio announced that Austin, Texas, had hit its 10th day in a row of temperatures 105°F or higher for the first time on record.
Also on Wednesday, the cities of Miami, Florida; El Paso, Texas; and Las Cruces, New Mexico, all broke records for the number of days in a row with a heat index of 100°F or higher at 38 days, 33 days, and 17 days respectively, ABC News reported.
All of this heat has taken a toll on human health. At least 18 people have died because of heat in Arizona’s Maricopa County alone, though authorities are investigating another 69 deaths. A 71-year-old man also died in California’s Death Valley National Park Tuesday, most likely after hiking in 121°F heat.
And relief is not in sight. As of Thursday morning, around 115 million people were under heat alerts in more than 12 states, Axios reported. Over the weekend, more than 20% of the US population, or 80 million people, could face either an air temperature or heat index higher than 105°F. A heat index is how the air feels on the skin when heat combines with humidity, and a heat index of 103°F or higher can cause dangerous health complications.
“Take the heat seriously and avoid extended time outdoors,” the NWS cautioned, as Axios reported. “Temperatures and heat indices will reach levels that would pose a health risk, and be potentially deadly, to anyone without effective cooling and/or adequate hydration.”
Walton said that Heatwave Chevron could reduce its range next week and shrink back to the West, but later, it could again extend north and east, where it could “make life miserable for the Midwest, which is one of the few areas across the Northern Hemisphere that has seen below average temperatures this summer.”
As the nation continues to bake, does Walton think naming heatwaves after fossil fuel companies might catch on? Walton told The Guardian he would like to see newscasters name major heatwaves, but thought it was unlikely they would adopt his naming method.
“I’m trying to be a bug in the ear of my compatriots to take what I’m doing and run with it,” he said. “I realize what I’m doing is controversial and corporate media will want to steer clear of it, but people need to be riled up. I don’t think we need to pull any punches. If it causes consternation, so be it.”
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