Geography, Simplified!: Heat Waves

This post was written a good many years ago (I think 5 or 6 actually) for a blog that I used to write on with a friend. Since then I’ve been meaning to put more of my Geography Degree and teaching knowledge to good some use and yet I keep putting it off. Well, since the old blog seems destined to close down for good soon, I thought that I may as well drag some old content kicking and screaming from the pages of the past to share once more (also I’m hilariously lazy and this seems like the easiest way to bring the blog back in relative obscurity from total obscurity…) Please forgive any glaring issues, but ho hum. Welcome to “Geography, Simplified!”


It’s the summer holidays and it’s pouring with rain! What else did you expect from this wonderful country of our? A little bit of hot weather? Well, cast your minds back over the last few years (few months actually, we had a heatwave declared in June!) You can bet your bottom Pound Sterling (not Dollar. We’re not toddlers Americans) that with the hot weather comes the inevitable scaremongering from the media that will begin with some websites pondering whether our weather might descend into a “heat wave”. But what exactly is a heat wave? Let’s take a look.

“A heat wave is a prolonged period of excessively hot weather, which may be accompanied by high humidity. There is no universal definition of a heat wave;the term is relative to the usual weather in the area.”

Put simply, a heat wave is a time of higher than average temperatures in an area, but since the climate of two areas may not be the same, there is no single temperature that must be achieved for it to be considered a heat wave. The reccommended definition is that when the daily maximum temperature of more than five days in a row is higher than the average temperature by more than five degrees Celsius.

So how do they happen?

Well, heat waves are usually caused by an area of high pressure where the air and the ground get heated to excess and there is very little to displace the heat, such as cloud cover. A static high pressure area (one that does not move) can create a very persistent heat wave. Hot winds blowing from tropical or desert areas can also contribute to the creation of heat waves, with the warmer air being blown onto an area that is usually cooler, combining with the high pressure area. The “Heat Island” phenomenon caused by large urban areas such as cities can also exacerbate (such a big word, so grown up!) a heat wave and make it worse, due to the prolonged period of heat, cutting down the amount of night time cooling.

What damage can heat waves do?

Medical issues such as Hyperthermia (heat stroke) and Heat rash, among others can be caused by the extreme weather. A usual precaution taken during a heat wave is to set up air conditioned “cooling areas” for the public in most cities. In worst case scenarios heat waves can kill, as seen in the 2003 European heat wave, where around 15,000 people died in France alone. Wildfires can be started in some areas, where the heat affects dry vegetation and causes it to catch alight. In 2003 fires raged through Portugal as a consequence of the heat. Heatwaves can also cause physical damage to infrastructure with pavements and roads melting and buckling due to the heat.

You mentioned 2003 in Europe?

Why yes I did. All good Geographers love a Case Study and this is ours for a Heatwave. In 2003 a heat wave erupted over most of western Europe. You can see the areas affected on the map I’ve included at the end of this post. In 2003, the summer was the hottest on record since at least 1540. This created major health crises in many countries, with France being hit especially hard. This, combined with a drought that caused a major crop shortfall in the South of the continent, caused over 40,000 Europeans to lose their lives. The UK managed to escape the worst, and was brought a short period of relief by Atlantic cyclones, bringing cool, wet weather for a few days before the temperatures started to rise once again. Around 2000 people died in the UK.

Map showing the 2003 European Heat Wave

Well there you have it. The phenomenon known as a heat wave has been broken down a bit and explained. Now, whenever this rain stops you can understand what all the scary news articles are about! See you all soon for another bit of Geography, Simplified!

 

A Cinnamon Danish and an Oddly Seductive Picture of George Osborne

There are things in life that we may not necessarily like. If this (and the really rather strange title) seems like a strange way to start a blog post, bear with me and it should all be a little clearer soon.

As I said there are things in life we don’t like but regardless of personal feelings we have to do them. For me, one of these things is going to London. I can’t stand it. Nevertheless at 7:15 I was entrenched upon the local station platform surrounded by an ocean of commuters, some dressed rather scruffily for work in my opinion whilst others (myself included) were dressed to the nines. There was a rather sombre mood permeating the atmosphere, not only owed to the pregnant pause between the weather waiting to rain and actually raining. No, as if to add to the drudgery of my days task the train was delayed. Combining the shambolic attempts of a certain UK rail provider (who shall remain nameless but whose name does indeed rhyme with the phrase “Burst Eight, Heston!” You make your own deductions from there)  to organise a train on time for once, my general disdain of the general public and the fact that I was on my way to the urine soaked, antisocial hub of wretched debauchery and assorted unsavoury miscreants shining jewel of civilisation and prosperity that Is our capital, it was safe to say I wasn’t in a brilliant mood.

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The trains had been delayed for so long that people abandoned all hope of going home and set up camps on the platform

Soldiering on like the trooper I am I suffered through a rail journey (once the train arrived of course) spent entirely stood up for an hour whilst penned in shoulder to face with my fellow cattle passengers. I eventually emerged at London Paddington and with surprisingly little fuss I was on an underground train and arrived at my final stop before a short walk to the secondary school that was to be my final destination for the day.

Just before moving on I’d like to briefly mention that for all the fuss made about how fantastically amazing and modern and culturally advanced London is I could not, for love nor money, find anywhere to buy a coffee that wasn’t out of the back of a gentleman’s Peugeot106 (and I use the word gentleman very loosely). Whilst I do love coffee I prefer mine not to be purchased in a car boot sale style, only being one small step away from swapping a manilla envelope of cash for a brown paper bag hidden cup of java underneath an underpass. If this is what being modern and culturally advanced is, I’ll stick to the dark ages thanks.

Skipping ahead my mornings plight was rewarded at registration for the event (which was a meeting of network connected geography teachers as I know you were clearly wondering) with a large cup of steaming hot coffee and a gigantic cinnamon Danish (ooh mystery 1 solved) it almost made up for the events of the morning. Almost.

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The event itself was actually quite interesting, sharing good practice ideas over pastries (a practice which needs to be adopted as the sole way to do this in any situation) before having some interesting talks from members of the Royal Geographic Society on the changes made to GCSE and A Level geography in the UK.  All in all a useful and thought provoking few hours which I’m very glad I got the chance to listen to. The real treat however was still to come.

Post comfort break (as teachers we can’t be expected to sit still for more than two hours without moving around or else we begin to act like our students during after lunch lessons) we were treated to a bit of subject knowledge enhancement on the topic of Hydraulic Fracking (which was fracking interesting if you ask me). It was during the lecture that the aforementioned picture emerged. When discussing the pros and cons of the process as a viable source for meeting UK energy needs in the near future an oddly seductive picture of George Osborne became emblazoned on the SMART BOARD to highlight the fact his views are that we should push on with fracking despite the impacts that this may have and use hydraulic Fracking as a transition or “bridge fuel” between the current over reliance upon fossil fuels and sustainable alternatives. To use the really rather brilliant metaphor that the teacher leading the Hub shared with us, Fracking can be seen as the methadone to the heroin addict, a way to wean us off an unhealthy and unsustainable addiction to fossil fuel.

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All in all the experience of working collaboratively with other teachers in the network, some of whom have been teaching for years, some like myself at the beginning of their careers and some at the very start of it all doing their training year also known as the worst year of your life and a surefire method of driving you to alcoholism in order to survive was incredibly positive and it was great to get view points from different perspectives and to, as the horrifically irritating man stuck in my group much to my chagrin (well it was going too well for him not to be) kept saying, see concepts through a different lens. I’m not sure if he was an idiot. No, actually I’m positive about that point a secret lover of photography and ophthalmology or just a man utterly in love with metaphors but if his point was to leave a lasting impression of the complexity with which we should examine  global issues as opposed to the simplistic, singular point of view that we often take then he most definitely succeeded in changing my thinking.

Even if it is only until I get back in the classroom tomorrow…