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!



The Pursuit of Knowlege

I am a person that never wants to stop learning. I’m sure that almost everyone is like myself in this way, we all want to know things. Whether it is simply trivial things like who your best friend is dating or more challenging things such as an understanding of particle physics, we ll want to know things. That’s why we have universities and libraries and Wikipedia.

Personally, I want to know about quite a lot of things. Obviously, I want to learn more about Geography, a passion of mine which I am achieving through my degree. So that’s one down. However, I also want to learn more about languages, history and religion. A lot of the books that I read in my free time are based on historical concepts and events and also quite a few of them are based around a religious experience, figure or event as well. So I get to learn a bit, but there’s always time for more.

Luckily for all of you out there that are like myself, massive knowledge hoarders, there are some wonderful ways to learn that can be taken anywhere at any time. If you like to read books, there’s always libraries so check your local council website to find out where your nearest one is! If you prefer lsitening to your learning there are tons of podcasts out there that you can grab and download. iTunes has an absolute shedload of these! Thirdly, if you prefer to watch videos then there are lots of channels on YouTube where you can do this. A personal favourite of mine is Crash Course, a new channel that is set up by the VlogBrothers John and Hank Green where they teah you about Biology and World History. I’ll put a link to the playlist of each of these at the end. Also by Hank Green is Sci Show where he teaches you about science. I’ll also chuck a link in to Sci Show.

So keep looking for things and keep learning! If you have an recommedations for books, podcasts or video series then let me know in the comments!