Several watch and warning systems have been established in the world in recent years to prevent the effects of heat waves. However, many of these approaches can be applied only in regions with perfect conditions (e.g., enough data, stationary series or homogeneous regions). Furthermore, a number of these approaches do not account for possible trend in mortality and/or temperature series, whereas others are generally not adapted to regions with low population densities or low daily mortality levels. In addition, prediction based on multiple days preceding the event can be less accurate if it attributes the same importance to each of these days, since the forecasting accuracy actually decreases with the period. The aim of the present study was to identify appropriate indicators as well as flexible and general thresholds that can be applied to a variety of regions and conditions. From a practical point of view, the province of Québec constitutes a typical case where a number of the above-mentioned constraints are present. On the other hand, until recently, the province's watch and warning system was based on a study conducted in 2005, covering only the city of Montreal and applied to the whole province. The proposed approach is applied to each one of the other health regions of the province often experiencing low daily counts of mortality and presenting trends. The first constraint led to grouping meteorologically homogeneous regions across the province in which the number of deaths is sufficient to carry out the appropriate data analyses. In each region, mortality trends are taken into account. In addition, the proposed indicators are defined by a 3-day weighted mean of maximal and minimal temperatures. The sensitivity of the results to the inclusion of traumatic deaths is also checked. The application shows that the proposed method improved the results in terms of sensitivity, specificity and number of yearly false alarms, compared to those of the existing and other classical approaches. An additional criterion based on the Humidex is applied in a second step and a local validation is applied to historical observations at reference forecasting stations. An integrated heat health watch and warning system with thresholds that are adapted to the regional climate has thus been established for each sub-region of the province of Quebec and became operational in June 2010.
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