The Met Office has launched weather warnings for extreme heat 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.
This 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 their records began in 2004.
The deaths were recorded between June 23 and 27, July 30 to August 1, and August 5 to 15.
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 know that heat is becoming much more of an issue… so 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 around 30C by day and 20C 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.”
He added: “The implication of climate change, which is already being seen in the way temperatures are increasing, to have such periods in a summer may be becoming the new normal.”
The warnings will be co-ordinated with the existing PHE Heat Health Alerts, which are designed to alert healthcare professionals.
Dr Owen Landeg, the scientific lead of extreme events and health protection at PHE, said the excess deaths last summer were recorded across England and that heat-related deaths are expected to treble by 2050.
“This isn’t just London or the south-east – we saw excess deaths across all regions of England, apart from Yorkshire and Humber and the north-east region of England,” he said.
Dr Landeg added: “Working towards 2050, we are expecting a trebling of heat-related mortality.
“Every year we see on average around 2,000 deaths at present, and that is expected to increase to over 7,000 by 2050.”
High temperatures increase the risk of death because the body must circulate blood faster to keep cool which can strain the heart and lungs.
This can trigger heat stroke and life-threatening cardiovascular and respiratory conditions.
People aged over 65, those with underlying health conditions and people who cannot adapt their surroundings like young children and Alzheimer’s patients particularly suffer with the effects of extreme heat.