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

Pedestrians cross a snow-covered street during a blizzard in New York
Passive houses are extremely airtight, with heavily insulated walls and high-performance windows. And in cold climates, they’re designed to maximize the heat from the sun during the winter months.
Yale Climate Connections
Walk on wet melted ice pavement. Back view on the feet of a man walking along the icy pavement. Pair of shoe on icy road in winter. Abstract empty blank winter weather background
Field testing shows concrete can warm itself when temperatures fall
Drexel University School of Public Health
Mongolia yurts in the snow
With this year’s freeze harsher than ever, the call for climate risk solutions that are big and bold enough to save Mongolia’s lands and livestock are more pressing than ever.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Global warming caused by increased concentrations of greenhouse gases is already affecting our lives. Scorching summers, more intense heatwaves, longer drought periods, more extended floods, and wilder wildfires are consequences linked to this warming.
Conversation Media Group, the
Long lines at a grocery store following power outages and frigid temperatures in Texas, USA (2021)
Severe cold events occur when the polar jet stream – the familiar jet stream of winter that runs along the boundary between Arctic and more temperate air – dips deeply southward, bringing the cold Arctic air to regions that don’t often experience it.
Conversation Media Group, the
This child-friendly booklet is for kids who are 6-12 years old to generate Blizzards awareness among children through animated characters and simple but strong messages.
Our newly published research shows how apartment residents struggle with the impacts of unhealthy homes. It’s a result of decades of urban planning based on fossil fuel use and high-rise building standards poorly adapted to the Australian environment.
Conversation Media Group, the
Mongolian Red Cross early action for dzud
The cumulative impacts of overgrazing, droughts, and dzuds have heightened the vulnerability of herders, especially those from households with limited livestock, small families, and female-led households, posing a significant threat to their livelihoods.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Bookshelves in a library.
Explore the Knowledge Base
Explore the latest on disaster risk and resilience from around the world: news, research, policies and publications.

Is this page useful?

Yes No Report an issue on this page

Thank you. If you have 2 minutes, we would benefit from additional feedback (link opens in a new window).