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'Heat wave leave' unrealistic for Taiwan: weather experts

2012/07/11 12:15:49

Taipei, July 11 (CNA) Meteorological experts said Wednesday it would be difficult for Taiwan to introduce "heat wave leaves," which some people have advocated following days of scorching temperatures.

The impact of a heat wave depends on people's specific jobs and lifestyles, which makes it hard to find a solution that suits everyone, said Peng Chi-ming, CEO of WeatherRisk Explore Inc. and atmospheric science professor at National Central University.

"I can't imagine white-collar workers sitting in an air conditioned room taking a heat wave leave," said Peng, who stressed that sufficient warning and close monitoring of temperatures are the keys to preventing heat-related health threats.

Those most likely to be affected by the heat are laborers in metropolitan areas, where the urban heat island effect could add to health risks, he said.

Peng suggested that a more flexible solution would be to extend workers' break times at noon and make up the time at the beginning or end of their shifts.

Temperatures in Taipei set 2012 highs on three consecutive days recently, peaking at 38.3 degrees Celsius on Tuesday.

The stifling heat has prompted discussions about whether Taiwan should establish a local heat index and adjust work schedules accordingly.

According to the guidelines of the World Health Organization, a heat wave occurs when the daily maximum temperature exceeds the average maximum temperature by 5 degrees for more than five consecutive days.

When applied to Taipei, the standard would require the city to experience temperatures of 39.3 degrees for at least five days in a row for a heat wave to be declared.

But even the establishment of such an advisory system does not seem practical, said Cheng Ming-dean, director of the Central Weather Bureau's Weather Forecast Center.

That's because Taiwan has a less extreme marine tropical climate, and more tests are needed before health organizations can clearly identify the effect of heat on human bodies.

"The hot weather we have seen recently is rather an outlier from a statistical point of view," he said. "Plus, it is rare to see health problems caused by extreme heat, which usually only exists for relatively brief periods in Taiwan."

Still, Cheng said the bureau has been soliciting opinions from academics and applying the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature index, a model used to measure heat threats, to further understand the sweltering heat Taiwan has recently experienced.

(By Lee Hsin-Yin)