Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Among Natural Hazards, Heat is #1 Killer

With the earth getting steadily hotter due to global warming, the release today of a US “death map” ~ clearly showing that heat is the country’s biggest natural-disaster killer ~ took on an even more serious tone.

Researchers now say people are more likely to die of heat than by earthquake, thunderstorms or hurricanes. Heat and drought caused 19.6 percent of total deaths from natural hazards, with summer thunderstorms causing 18.8 percent and winter weather causing 18.1 percent, the team at the University of South Carolina found.

Contrary to Popular Opinion

Earthquakes, wildfires and hurricanes combined were responsible for fewer than 5 percent of all hazard deaths, according to News Daily.

Writing in BioMed Central's International Journal of Health Geographics, they said they hoped to dispel some myths about what the biggest threats to life and limb are.

"According to our results, the answer is heat," Susan Cutter and Kevin Borden of the University of South Carolina wrote in their report, which gathered data from 1970 to 2004. "I think what most people would think, if you say what is the major cause of death and destruction, they would say hurricanes and earthquakes and flooding. They wouldn't say heat."

More Publicized Hazards Have Fewer Deaths

"What is noteworthy here is that over time, highly destructive, highly publicized, often-catastrophic singular events such as hurricanes and earthquakes are responsible for relatively few deaths when compared to the more frequent, less catastrophic such as heat waves and severe weather," they wrote.

The most dangerous places to live are much of the South, because of the heat risk, the hurricane coasts and the Great Plains states with their severe weather, Cutter said.
The south central United States is also a dangerous area, with floods and tornadoes.

California is relatively safe, they found. "It illustrates the impact of better building codes in seismically prone areas because the fatalities in earthquakes have gone down from 1900 because things don't collapse on people any more," Cutter said.

Click here for the complete News Daily article and map.


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Rossa said...

It's always interesting how different sets of statistics bring out opposite results.

With respect to the report you've featured, this result is based on questionable data. The study used results for mortality from extreme heat and cold that can be traced to the National Climatic Data Center. But these data are substantially different from mortality data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) based on the Compressed Mortality File for the United States. The latter uses death certificate records, which provide the cause of each recorded death (based on medical opinion). It is reasonable to believe that regarding the cause of death, particularly for extreme cold and heat, medical opinion as captured in death certificate records is more reliable than determinations made by the meteorologists in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s NCDC (even if they have Ph.Ds.).

Data from the CDC database indicates that extreme cold, rather than heat, is the deadliest form of extreme weather event. In fact, over this period, extreme cold was responsible for slightly more than 50 percent of deaths during this period for the categories listed. In fact, from 1979-2002, extreme cold was responsible for 53 percent of deaths due to all categories of extreme weather, while extreme heat contributes slightly more than half that (28%).

Note that despite the hoopla about natural weather disasters, they contribute less than 0.06% to the annual U.S. death toll!

I've been reading your blog for a while and like the variety of subjects you cover. My comment on the religious one is more light hearted rather than morbid!

Gregory LeFever said...

Rossa, that's a very interesting comment. I'm startled at the variation in statistical data from the climate people versus the CDC. I wonder where the National Climatic Data Center is getting its mortality figures other than off of death certificates?

I must admit that I'm suspicious of the entire "died-of" field of inquiry, even from the CDC. Mortality statistics have become a form of social engineering in the hands of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. For years, it seemed every other person died of smoking and now it's obesity, which these people would have us believe is responsible for nearly all heart disease and cancer.

I like your point that only 0.06% of US deaths are weather-related anyway. Still, I have no doubt that if someone freezes to death in Minnesota, some insurance company will try to get off the hook by calling it a pre-existing condition.

Thank you for the provocative comment, Rossa!

Gregory LeFever said...

Hi Sarah, welcome! Thank you for acknowledging your readership. I never quite know who or how many people are stopping by, but there's every indication that it's a great group of people.

Come back often!