Heat Waves Could Be Forecast Earlier: Study

Scientists find a way to predict deadly heat waves up to twice as early as previously

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Patrick Sison / AP

In this July 20, 2013, a rainbow appears in the New York skyline over the Empire State Building after a light rain lowered the over 32 degree city temperature.

Ever more frequent and deadly heat waves have prompted scientists to look for better models to predict when the next spell will strike. In a study that will be published in Nature Geoscience next week, researchers point to an atmospheric pattern that might help forecast these events up to 20 days in advance, compared to the ten-day maximum of current methods.

The pattern, consisting of a sequence of high-and low-pressure systems in the atmosphere, brings new thinking to a phenomenon that was previously explained by tropical weather conditions, such as El Niño and La Niña, the National Center for Atmospheric Research reports.

Being able to earlier predict the onslaught of a heat wave like the one that killed between 40,000 and 70,000 people in Europe in 2003 could help communities be better prepared, for instance with cooling centers and check-ups on the elderly.