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UK weather: Extreme heat warnings to be given out after excess deaths soared during last year’s heatwaves

Written by on 18 June 2021

Weather warnings for extreme heat have been launched after a record-breaking number of heatwave deaths were recorded in England last summer.

Dr Will Lang from the Met Office told a virtual Local Government Association (LGA) briefing that red and amber warnings can now be issued for areas expecting uncharacteristically high temperatures.

It comes as Public Health England (PHE) recorded 2,256 excess all-cause deaths in the country during the three periods officially classed as “heatwaves” last summer – the highest number since its records began in 2004.

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The deaths were recorded between 23 and 27 June, 30 July and 1 August, and 5 and 15 August.

Some 1,734 of these 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 compared with the average from the preceding and subsequent seven-day periods.

This includes adjustment for coronavirus-related mortality.

Dr Will Lang, head of civil contingencies at the Met Office, said the service is being launched because heat is becoming “much more of an issue” due to climate change.

He told the conference: “We will be able to issue what we’re calling ‘extreme heat warnings’ if needed this summer and indeed for subsequent summers.

“These will be considered for the more extreme heat episodes like the one we saw last August, so about 30C (86F) by day and 20C (68F) by night, and that persisting for a couple of days or more.

“What we’re doing is emphasising the impact on the general population from heat and also the probable disruption to infrastructure – to things like transport and to power networks.”

The warnings will be co-ordinated with the existing PHE Heat Health Alerts, which are designed to alert healthcare professionals.

High temperatures increase the risk of premature death because the body must circulate blood faster to keep cool, which can strain the heart and lungs.

This can trigger heatstroke and life-threatening cardiovascular and respiratory conditions.

People aged over 65, those with underlying health conditions and people who cannot adapt to their surroundings like young children and Alzheimer’s patients particularly suffer with the effects of extreme heat.

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