Heat Waves

The heat wave that Europe experienced in summer 2003 was one of the worst natural disasters in recent years. Combined with a drought that devastated agricultural production across the continent, the disaster claimed over 20,000 lives. While heat waves are always defined in terms relative to a particular region, they usually occur from a combination of factors such as high air pressure, little cloud cover and a decrease in winds that naturally cool an area. Even for short periods of time, high temperatures can cripple infrastructure such as roads, power stations, and water lines, making it even more difficult to deliver aid to individuals, families, and communities in need of heat relief. The increased average temperatures expected with climate change are projected to increase both the frequency and intensity of heat waves in years to come.

See also: Environmental Refugees, Tipping Points, Climate Change and Disease

Further Resources
Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (
Eric Klinenberg, University of Chicago Press, 2003)
Met Office report on the Heat Wave of 2003
Impacts of Summer 2003 Heat Wave in Europe (UNEP)

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