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

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)
A weather station in the mountains of the Kyrgyz Republic.
One phrase comes up repeatedly with the projections: a strong El Niño is coming. It sounds ominous. But what does that actually mean? We asked Aaron Levine, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington whose research focuses on El Niño.
Conversation Media Group, the
Long lines at a grocery store following power outages and frigid temperatures in Texas, USA (2021)
Research briefs
Big waves have doubled since 1950s, possibly due to shifting climate.
Columbia Climate School
Research briefs
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
Documents and publications
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.
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Bookshelves in a library.
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