As extreme heat brought on by an anticyclone in southern Europe sees temperatures reach upwards of 40°C (104°F) in places, the life-threatening conditions have been unofficially dubbed “Cerberus” after the underworld’s three-headed watchdog.
In Greek mythology, Cerberus is described as a three- (or sometimes 50-) headed dog with a serpent’s tail who stands guard at the entrance of the underworld devouring those who attempt to escape – fitting, some may say, for the anticyclone currently threatening parts of Europe.
“The three heads indicate the three main climatic zones into which Italy will be divided,” Meteorologist Stefano Rossi told La Stampa newspaper in defense of the name’s use.
However, despite being widely reported as being the Italian Meteorological Society’s official title, “Cerberus” is, in fact, a very unofficial name for the heatwave, and some are unhappy about its use.
“The name is unofficial, and we absolutely don’t use it,” Luca Mercalli, president of the Italian Meteorological Society, told Wired. Going on the explain that he finds the name sensationalistic, Mercalli echoes the opinions of others who agree that the use of “scary names” could desensitize the public to the very real threats of extreme heat.
The name was in actuality coined by the Italian weather website iLMeteo which regularly names anticyclones after mythological figures. The company’s founder, Antonio Sanò, told Wired “Our names are not official but always become quickly famous, thanks to our popularity.”
While other weather systems such as hurricanes receive official titles, the act of naming heatwaves is not yet widespread. The first extreme heat event to be given a name happened last year in Seville, Spain, where temperatures brought by “Zoe” reached 44.4°C (112°F).
Since then, the proMETEO Sevilla Project in collaboration with the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center of the Atlantic Council has been working to establish naming systems for these types of events. The project aims to increase public awareness and education on the implementation of heat-risk interventions.
With a ranking system that considers daytime and nighttime temperatures, cloud cover, humidity, and other factors, this proposed official naming structure is hoped to introduce a standardized and internationally recognized system.
Their naming system uses relatively uncommon Spanish names and runs in reverse alphabetical order. It has titled 2023’s heatwave “Xenia”, but notedly, as the system is not yet internationally recognized, this name only applies to the weather in the city of Seville.
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