Weather and mortality

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:21 PM GMT on February 27, 2009

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Hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes get the attention-grabbing headlines when a natural disaster kills people in the U.S. Yet heat waves, cold winter weather, severe thunderstorm winds, and flooding all killed more people in the U.S. between 1970 and 2004, according to a December 2008 article published by Kevin Borden and Susan Cutter of the University of South Carolina. Tornadoes and lightning were tied for fifth place, and Hurricanes and earthquakes tied for eighth place. However, had this study extended one more year into 2005, the roughly 1800 hurricane deaths from Hurricane Katrina would have vaulted hurricane deaths into third place, behind heat wave deaths and cold weather deaths. The study also showed that people living in rural areas were most likely to die from a natural disaster than those living in cities.


Figure 1. U.S. deaths due to natural hazards between 1970 and 2004 showed that weather associated with extremes of hot and cold weather, along with severe thunderstorm winds (the "Severe Weather" category), killed the most people. Image credit: Spatial patterns of natural hazards mortality in the United States, International Journal of Health Geographics. Authors: Kevin Borden and Susan Cutter of the University of South Carolina.

The authors used Spatial Hazard Event and Loss Database for the United States (SHELDUS)(available at http://www.sheldus.org). This database provides hazard loss information (economic losses and casualties) from 1960-2005 for eighteen different hazard types, and is primarily based on data from the NOAA/National Climatic Data Center publication, "Storm Data". The numbers have high uncertainty, and the authors conclude, "There is considerable debate about which natural hazard is the most "deadly". According to our results, the answer is heat. But this finding could be changed depending on the data source, or how hazards within a data source are grouped."


Figure 2. U.S. deaths due to natural hazards for the 10- and 30-year period ending in 2007, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Image credit: NOAA.

To illustrate, a 2008 study by Thacker et al. called, "Overview of deaths associated with natural events, United States, 1979-2004", concluded that cold deaths were twice as common as heat deaths in the U.S. However, they noted that the 1995 Chicago heat wave, which killed between 600 and 700 people by some estimates, was not properly represented in the data base used in their study. This data base attributed only 50 deaths in the entire state of Illinois to heat in 1995. The authors conclude that their data base "under-reports the actual number of deaths due to severe heat".

Another example: NOAA plots up annual natural hazard deaths from the same source ("Storm Data") as the first study I montioned. Their statistics for the ten-year period ending in 2007 show a much different picture (Figure 2). Heat deaths are a much more dominant source of mortality than cold and winter storm deaths, by a factor 3.5. The take-home message from all this is that heat- and cold-related extreme weather are probably the deadliest weather hazards in the U.S., but we really don't know the proportion of people killed by each. One can easily cherry pick the study of one's choice to show a desired result.

How global warming might affect heat and cold-related deaths
If the globe continues to warm up this century, as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), heat-related deaths will increase and cold-related deaths will decrease (duh!). Unfortunately, that's about the most intelligent thing one can say about the matter. The 2007 IPCC report (section 8.4.1.3, Heat- and cold-related mortality), does not attempt to estimate the numbers, saying, "Additional research is needed to understand how the balance of heat-related and cold-related mortality could change under different socio-economic scenarios and climate projections."

This high uncertainty in future heat- and cold-related deaths does not stop advocates on either side of the global warming issue from cherry picking results from selected studies to support a particular point of view. For example, opinion columnist George Will stated in a recent Newsweek column: "In Europe, cold kills more than seven times as many as heat does. Worldwide, moderate warming will, on balance, save more lives than it will cost--by a 9-to-1 ratio in China and India. So, if substantially cutting carbon dioxide reverses warming, that will mean a large net loss of life globally." Will bases his arguments on Danish statistician Bjørn Lomborg's controversial 2007 book, "Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming." However, as pointed out by Danish biologist Kåre Fog, who has assembled a large web site dedicated to pointing out the errors in Lomborg's books, the huge number of excess deaths attributed to cold by Will and Lomborg are in large part because the death rate naturally rises in the winter: "Old and seriously sick people have less vitality in the dark season. It is too bold to say that the excess deaths during the dark part of the year are `deaths due to excess cold?. There is no evidence that a warmer climate will alter the seasonal variation. These people would soon die in any case, even if winters became warmer. Indeed, cold and warm climates, like Finland and Greece, have approximately the same seasonal variation in mortality." The IPCC underscores this problem, stating: "projections of cold-related deaths, and the potential for decreasing their numbers due to warmer winters, can be overestimated unless they take into account the effects of influenza and season".

Heat wave deaths are subject to a degree of uncertainty as well. It is somewhat of a subjective call if an elderly person who dies during a heat wave died primarily as a result of the heat, or of a pre-existing heart or respiratory condition. Complicating the diagnosis is the fact that air pollution is at its worst during heat waves, and can also be blamed as the cause of death in some cases. Different studies will use different criteria for classify deaths due to heat, pollution, or pre-existing medical conditions during a heat wave, leading to widely varying estimates of mortality. For example, the European heat wave of 2003 is blamed for 35,000, 52,000, or 70,000 deaths, depending upon the source. You're more likely to hear the higher 70,000 figure quoted by advocates of doing something about global warming, and the 35,000 figure quoted by those opposed.

The three 2008 studies for the U.S. show the ratio of cold deaths to heat deaths ranges from 2:1 to 1:3, which is very different from the 7:1 and 9:1 figures quoted by Will and Lomborg for Europe, India, and China. I don't trust any of these numbers, since heat and cold mortality statistics are highly uncertain and easy to cherry pick to show a desired result. It is rather unproductive to argue about how many people die due to heat and cold in the current climate or in a future climate. Excess heat deaths due to climate change should not get as much attention as the potential for death due to reduction in crop yields due to increased heat and drought, regional collapses of the oceanic food chain from the steady acidification of the oceans, and the wars these conditions might trigger.

For more information
For those interested, Kåre Fog also presents a list of the errors in Al Gore's book and movie, An Inconvenient Truth, and has a Comparison of error counts between Al Gore and Bjørn Lomborg. Lomborg has assembled a Short reply to Skeptical Questions to respond to some of Fog's criticisms, but does not answer Fog's criticism on cold deaths vs. heat deaths. Suffice to say, one should be wary of trusting climate change information from either source, or from opinion columnists, or from politicians. Blogs can also be a questionable source of climate change information, though I think wunderground Climate Change blogger Dr. Ricky Rood is one of the most knowledgeable and unbiased climate change experts in the world. Though imperfect, the best source of climate change information is the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The level of scientific collaboration and peer review that went into that document is one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of science, and the IPCC was fully deserving of the Nobel Prize awarded to it last year. Blogs and books like Lomborg's and Gore's have not gone through peer-review by scientific experts on climate change, and will have far more errors, biases, and distortions of the truth than the IPCC reports.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting captainhunter:
60. pottery

Thanks Pottery. I'll see if I can find it. I enjoy sippable rums as I don't drink soft drinks and nothing else really mixes well with rum.


Dang--when I lived on a sailboat, mango juice, fresh key lime juice and a light rum tasted perfect! Of course, this was in the Keys and on a boat so location bias must be taken into account....
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NWS Tallahassee discussion excerpt:

Sunday...although severe weather Saturday is main focus...as the
cold upper low traverses the Saturday late into Sunday...if all
of the potential ingredients do come together...some portions of the
County Warning Area could at least see a touch of frozen precipitation.
Although it should
be cold enough aloft for some wrap around light rain to mix with
light snow or snow flurries to form in this cold pool...soundings
show that the boundary layer may be too warm to support any of this
reaching the ground unless the precipitation were heavy enough...and the
models quite often tend to grossly overdo the available moisture on
the backside of these upper lows. Also latest BUFKIT sounding shows
snow snow sounding for Macon but rain sounding for Albany.
Therefore...am reluctant to intro any wintry precipitation but after
interfacing with our northern neighbors will go ahead and add snow
flurries to sun 08z-14z pop grids southeast ala/northern SW/scntrl Georgia but with
no measurable accumulation. Clearing skies late Sunday afternoon
from west-east will bring mostly sunny skies and colder more blustery
conditions. High will have trouble rising above 50f.

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69. Ossqss

Now THAT is what I'm talking 'bout! Sweet!!
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See your not alone.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
Quoting eddye:
south fla 44 degrees cold


Its in the 80's here.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23862
Quoting captainhunter:


If you insist. I have pilot friend who brought back some high end Puerto Rican rum from a trip and it was incredible. Pure sipping quality. Does anyone have any recommendations for a good Puerto Rican dark rum?
Poke a hole in a coconut or carve out a pineapple, pour in the Rum, get a straw, and your done. you can chill the items first or add a little ice, but that only dilutes things further.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
Looks like the southeast is going to get their next and probably last shot of snow for the winter.
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wow

Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
Quoting presslord:
Captainhunter....this was the mid 70's...I suspect he had a hunch....


Still wouldn't be a sin in my opinion ;)
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60. pottery

Thanks Pottery. I'll see if I can find it. I enjoy sippable rums as I don't drink soft drinks and nothing else really mixes well with rum.
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Temp 86 f
Humid. 58 %
Press. 1009 falling ( cant imagine why)
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59. Sounds good.

The weather here-- Sun, easterly breezes that are dry, and a "dryseason" feel to the air for the first time this year. Been a long time coming......
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Capt. H.
I dont know about PR rums, too much.
But there are some good ones down here.
Angostura 1919 is one you may find. Very "sippable". And do not put Coca Cola into it. That would be sacriledge.
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Quoting pottery:
Sheph ??
I thought you were out, in some exotic place ?
Tues or Wed.
With grand kids for a week.
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Sheph ??
I thought you were out, in some exotic place ?
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Quoting captainhunter:


If you insist. I have pilot friend who brought back some high end Puerto Rican rum from a trip and it was incredible. Pure sipping quality. Does anyone have any recommendations for a good Puerto Rican dark rum?

If you're in the right hammock, they're all good.
Most "labels" are overpriced. Coca Cola makes Bacardi Light dark enough for me...LOL
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Post 48. I agree. This is $$ that could be sent to Portlight for meaningful purposes.
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Captainhunter....this was the mid 70's...I suspect he had a hunch....
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Quoting presslord:


economics = weather related

Portlight Fishing Tournament=Weather related
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If this was hurricane season in NAtl, yes, there would be an issue. But considering it is still 3 months away... they should be able to post away. Gives me something to read anyway.
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Quoting pottery:
post 49.
Never !!


If you insist. I have pilot friend who brought back some high end Puerto Rican rum from a trip and it was incredible. Pure sipping quality. Does anyone have any recommendations for a good Puerto Rican dark rum?
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42. presslord

But did you tell him what you were smokin'? LOL
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post 49.
Never !!
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Is it too early to start talking about rum?
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"The 2007 IPCC report (section 8.4.1.3, Heat- and cold-related mortality), does not attempt to estimate the numbers, saying, "Additional research is needed to understand how the balance of heat-related and cold-related mortality could change under different socio-economic scenarios and climate projections."

At what cost? Do we really need additional research on this matter? What a waste of time and money.
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46
Now That Is Funny!!!!!
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Ok so --

Bad economy > drinking heavily > weather related I'm in !
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Quoting stillwaiting:
I believe doctors last blog had to do with the stimulus and weather,thus the economy is relevent to this particular blog!!!Got to see lulin again last night w/me tele,my brother and his girlfriend came over for viewing as well,we also checked out saturn and her moons!!!!


North FL tommorow:Severe weather likely
Central and south FL tomorrow night into sunday:severe weather likely
Surfmom,with any luck w/should get .25 to 1 inch possible in the next 48 hrs!!


Good hopefully we get some rain here
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Tropical Cyclone Warning Center Perth
Tropical Cyclone Advice Number EIGHT
TROPICAL LOW 09U
3:50 am WDT February 28 2009
===============================================

At 3:00 AM WDT, A TROPICAL LOW [998 hPa] located at 17.1S 119.0E, or 360 kms north of Port Hedland and 465 kms north northeast of Karratha has 10 minute sustained winds of 30 knots with gusts of 45 knots. The tropical low is reported as moving towards the southwest at 9 knots.

Widespread heavy rain is likely in the Pilbara during today as the system approaches the Pilbara coast, and significant flooding may result. Please refer to Flood Watch advices for more information.

The low remains weak but there is a chance it could develop into a tropical cyclone prior to making landfall. If the system does intensify into a tropical cyclone GALES may develop in coastal areas late today or early Sunday.

Tropical Cyclone Warning
=======================
A Cyclone WARNING is current for coastal areas from Wallal to Exmouth.

Next Tropical Cyclone Advice is at 7:00 AM WDT..
Member Since: May 24, 2006 Posts: 50 Comments: 45206
I believe doctors last blog had to do with the stimulus and weather,thus the economy is relevent to this particular blog!!!Got to see lulin again last night w/me tele,my brother and his girlfriend came over for viewing as well,we also checked out saturn and her moons!!!!


North FL tommorow:Severe weather likely
Central and south FL tomorrow night into sunday:severe weather likely
Surfmom,with any luck w/should get .25 to 1 inch possible in the next 48 hrs!!
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In high school I went to confession to a priest who was also an uncle....I mentioned I'd been smokin and he said "Aw hell, boy!!! That's not a sin!!!"
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Quoting MissNadia:
This "weather related " stuff Brings back memories!
I was raised in a Roman Catholic Irish family with a large extended family in the area.
There were only three things that were not "sin related" ,,,Fighting...Drinking....Smoking
You have to love the Irish!!!!



that's exactly how I was raised...
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This "weather related " stuff Brings back memories!
I was raised in a Roman Catholic Irish family with a large extended family in the area.
There were only three things that were not "sin related" ,,,Fighting...Drinking....Smoking
You have to love the Irish!!!!

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south fla 44 degrees cold
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Stormjunkie....whom I've never particularly liked, just called to say that Saturday is gonna be really wet here...and Sunday and Monday may bring snow...

therefore....

drinking heavily = weather related....
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Quoting Orcasystems:


Surf conditions... weather related
Horse Stuff... usually weather related.


economics = weather related
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Are we actually confidant that GW will reduce deaths from cold, rather than increasing them? I often see claims that GW increases the seasonal temperature variation by some percentage, and in places where the seasonal variation is sufficient, will make winters colder (and summers warmer by a larger amount).
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Mauritius Meteorological Services

LOW [1006 hPa) NEAR 12S 74E

LOW IS EXPECTED TO SLOWLY INTENSIFY
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Quoting stormmaven:
Tampa and Taz - There are those who don't respect Jeff's website and post regarding stocks , horses , surf conditions,.... and diminish the site.
Please respect the site for the sake of those who frequent it.


Surf conditions... weather related
Horse Stuff... usually weather related.
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
Quoting TampaSpin:


I think Dr. Masters understands the respect i have for him. And in no way is it being disrespectfully to post something as revelently as the DOW that so many are currently be affected. Its a Storm in itself!


I believe that the weather can affect the DOW so there is a corralation present.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
Quoting stormmaven:
Tampa and Taz - There are those who don't respect Jeff's website and post regarding stocks , horses , surf conditions,.... and diminish the site.
Please respect the site for the sake of those who frequent it.


I think Dr. Masters understands the respect i have for him. And in no way is it being disrespectfully to post something as revelently as the DOW that so many are currently be affected. Its a Storm in itself!
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I respectfully appologize for posting anything to do with Rosie Odonnell -- I did not know it was her show the respect song came from.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
Quoting stormmaven:
Tampa and Taz - There are those who don't respect Jeff's website and post regarding stocks , horses , surf conditions,.... and diminish the site.
Please respect the site for the sake of those who frequent it.


There's really nothing else to talk about i don't see a problem with talking about other things.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Tropical Cyclone Warning Center Perth
Tropical Cyclone Advice Number SEVEN
TROPICAL LOW 09U
12:50 am WDT February 28 2009
===============================================

At 12:00 AM WDT, A TROPICAL LOW [999 hPa] located at 16.7S 119.3E, or 340 kms west northwest of Broome and 410 kms north of Port Hedland has 10 minute sustained winds of 30 knots with gusts of 45 knots. The tropical low is reported as moving towards the southwest at 9 knots.

Widespread heavy rain is likely to develop in the Pilbara from Saturday afternoon as the system approaches the Pilbara coast, and significant flooding may result. Please refer to Flood Watch advices for more information.

The low remains weak but there is a chance it could develop into a tropical cyclone prior to making landfall. If the system does intensify into a tropical cyclone GALES may develop in coastal areas late on Saturday or early Sunday.

Tropical Cyclone Warning
=======================
A Cyclone WARNING is current for coastal areas from Wallal to Exmouth

Next Tropical Cyclone Advice is at 4:00 AM WDT..
Member Since: May 24, 2006 Posts: 50 Comments: 45206
Tampa and Taz - There are those who don't respect Jeff's website and post regarding stocks , horses , surf conditions,.... and diminish the site.
Please respect the site for the sake of those who frequent it.
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The TampaSpin ticker lives on !
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
Do-Do occurs during slow weather periods

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Quoting Tazmanian:
here what we ended up with this am


7,104.59


TAZ nice to see we have a Blogger police monitoring us.......Wow!
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here what we ended up with this am


7,104.59
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Quoting Orcasystems:


Taz, don't you start that BS also.
I am almost positive there is a Financial Blog somewhere... go post it there.



i post it where evere i want
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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