Cold Wave

A cold wave is a period of marked and unusual cold weather characterized by a sharp and significant drop in air temperature near the surface (maximum, minimum and daily average) over a large area and persisting below certain thresholds for at least two consecutive days during the cold season (WMO, 2020).

The World Meteorological Organization guidelines on the definition and monitoring of extreme weather and climate events advise the following (WMO, 2020):

  • Index: Daily values of Tmax, Tmin, and /or average temperature. Another index could be computed using temperature change in the 24 hours prior to the onset of the event.
  • Threshold: Determined based on historical values of the index.
  • Temporal: Station-level information on starting date, ending date, and duration of the event. Persistence of conditions for a cold wave are two days.
  • Spatial: Calculate the area affected, by providing the percentage of stations where the threshold was surpassed; locate the coordinates of the impacted stations and the center with the highest/lowest values of the indices; and optional, but recommended if resources are available, to use a geographical information system (GIS) to calculate the area affected by the event, the magnitude, and severity.


Human health impacts from cold waves include mortality from ischaemic heart disease and cerebrovascular disease both of which increase in cold weather.

Living in a cold bouse can affect health at any age, not just in old age, for a variety of reasons. Although the extra deaths in elderly people are caused mainly by cardiovascular and respiratory disease, far greater numbers have minor ailments that lead to a huge burden of disease, costs to the health system, and misery.

Compared with those who live in a warmer house, respiratory problems are roughly doubled in childre, arthrities and rheumatism increase, and mental hearlth can be impaired at any age. Adolescents who live in a cold house have a five-fold increaser risk of multiple health problems (Dear and McMichael, 2011).

Risk reduction measures

To reduce impacts related to cold waves, countries have used national alerting parameters for cold wave warning or cold weather plans which help prevent major avoidable effects on health (HIP, 2021).

Latest Cold Wave additions in the Knowledge Base

People living in smaller cities in lower-income regions face a greater risk of experiencing extreme temperatures. Such cities are also less likely to possess the infrastructure necessary to deal with an extreme climate.
American Geophysical Union
Climate change and energy costs mean we need to rethink how we design and build our homes. The updated National Construction Code has lifted the required energy performance of new housing from 6 stars to 7 stars (10 stars being the best).
Conversation Media Group, the
Buddhist stupas in Jomolhari base trekking, Paro Bhutan.
Pema Wangmo, who, with the help of her community, worked to restore greenhouses destroyed by climate change-induced snow fall. This is the fifth of the “Voices from the Frontline (Phase III)” stories by GRP and ICCCAD supported by Irish Aid.
Global Resilience Partnership
In this study, the researchers did a comprehensive mortality impact assessment due to heat and cold in European urban areas, considering geographical differences and age-specific risks.
The Lancet Planetary Health
Women covering her head from the sun
A study led by Aninda Bhattacharya used daily maximum temperature and minimum temperature data from 1970 to 2019 to investigate the trend in the frequency of occurrence of days with anomalously high temperature and days with anomalously low temperature
University of Hyderabad
Standards adopted by FERC include freeze protection steps, better cold weather preparedness plans and requirements to identify freeze-prone equipment
Idaho Capital Sun
On a remote hillside in Afghanistan’s Logar province, the tents of some 300 families stretch across the snow-covered ground. This makeshift village has stood here since last July, when unusually strong floodwaters destroyed hundreds of nearby homes.
The New Humanitarian
Texans like to think of their state as the energy capital of the world. But in mid-February 2021, the energy state ran short of energy.
Conversation Media Group, the
Bookshelves in a library.
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