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 TampaSpin:
God help us tomorrow.....the Asian markets are taking a pounding....OH my!

Hong Kong Hang Seng -430.07 -3.36% 12,381.50
YEP!!!
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Quoting SevereHurricane:


Tommorow is gonna be bad I can feel it comming.


Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
Quoting TampaSpin:
Hong Kong Hang Seng -449.19 -3.51% 12,362.38 3/2 11:23am


Japan Nikkei 225 -239.57 -3.17% 7,328.85 3/2 11:00am


Tommorow is gonna be bad I can feel it comming.
Member Since: September 7, 2008 Posts: 17 Comments: 1604
Quoting TampaSpin:
Hong Kong Hang Seng -449.19 -3.51% 12,362.38 3/2 11:23am


Japan Nikkei 225 -239.57 -3.17% 7,328.85 3/2 11:00am


That's it. I am renting a 1/2 duplex in cuba.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
Hong Kong Hang Seng -449.19 -3.51% 12,362.38 3/2 11:23am


Japan Nikkei 225 -239.57 -3.17% 7,328.85 3/2 11:00am
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Quoting TampaSpin:
God help us tomorrow.....the Asian markets are taking a pounding....OH my!

Hong Kong Hang Seng -430.07 -3.36% 12,381.50


You will probably see another technical bouce just under 100. Then the bad news starts flowing the rest of the week. And some surprises. Lets hope for the best and not deal with a mess.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
God help us tomorrow.....the Asian markets are taking a pounding....OH my!

Hong Kong Hang Seng -430.07 -3.36% 12,381.50
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Although very soon...I feel Cuba will become somewaht more Democratic...
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11557
Well, if Cuba is excluded from a big H this year, I may reconsider. I think Castro's duplex is half available.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
Tampa..where are you??? These people preferring Cuba over the U.S.?


LOL i was just thinking.....less bailout money.....ROFLMAO
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LMAO!!!
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11557
Tampa..where are you??? These people preferring Cuba over the U.S.?
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11557
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
you want to move to a communist country because it will be cold for a few days????


I understand there may be some property available on the eastern end soon. ª¿ª

The cold does keep the Skeeters down. OK, I'll stay.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
well at least Cuba doesn't have hurricanes...good swap for the few days of cold-cool weather..
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11557
ossgss i'll split the air fare with ya for that trip to cuba lmao
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
you want to move to a communist country because it will be cold for a few days????
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11557
Quoting TampaSpin:


Just looked at models and some are showing another cold front in 10 days..but, i have my doubts on this one.


Thats it, I am moving to Cuba. This is entirely too cold for FL in March.

On another note:: I am looking at new weather station. No more than a hundred bucks or so. Any suggestions?
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
Just took the pup out for a walk...breezy and cool...10-day for west palm looks like a little cool front coming through...this morning had temps for next weekend in the mid 80's...now in the mid 70's
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11557
403. Skyepony (Mod)
An interesting read on the western water woes..
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.
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 20 Comments: 4970
Quoting TampaSpin:


Just looked at models and some are showing another cold front in 10 days..but, i have my doubts on this one.


they better be wrong lol
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Quoting hahaguy:
I hope this will be our last cold snap for a long time for us here in Florida


Just looked at models and some are showing another cold front in 10 days..but, i have my doubts on this one.
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I hope this will be our last cold snap for a long time for us here in Florida
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Enough of this non Weather stuff.....Sorry. But, wow this is so important to many retires in this world and in the US. My Brother just retired and was given bad advice from his long time Financial Advisor and wow, his retirement is cut in less than half and he is now back to work......Thats not suppose to happen.
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Quoting TampaSpin:
A friend of mine is in a 2 million dollar house. He has not made a payment for over 12 months now......his payment is $9000 per month! He is waiting for the bailout. Funny has has not heard a peep from his mortage company.


It takes 14 - 16 months to process a foreclosure completely. He should get papers soon. BTW his house is probably worth about 1.2 if that indeed was a 2mm house. Check it on Zillow, which contrary to most popular belief, is pretty accurate.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
A friend of mine is in a 2 million dollar house. He has not made a payment for over 12 months now......his payment is $9000 per month! He is waiting for the bailout. Funny has has not heard a peep from his mortage company.
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Tampa, there were some basic things that happened in general that did not help the cause. Home prices grew way faster than household earnings and that cant happen for long. Most of the " new wealth " was credit wealth for many Americans and now its time to give some back. I personally don't like paying my neighbors mortgage, but its no different than many of the other entitlements we already dish out. We will get healthy again, but it appears that things will get a bit worse first. Lets see what the stress tests show us on the 20 big banks. We already own 36% of CITI. I am now getting depressed. See they were right. Where's the pretzels?
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
You know why the economy is so bad? Because for about 11 years the average american spent 6% more than they made. That is obviously why it is so bad.The economy is not going bad its balancing itself back to where it was 15 years ago.And when you read this you have to accept the American standard of living will do downhill. That means instead of eating out often, mama is cooking dinner more often again. But the Obama Administration is damaging the economy by printing unecisary money.If they keep this up you may either see the collapse of the dollar or a significant weekening of the dollar resulting in hyper inflation world wide and if that happens oil trade ect. would switch to a different currencey.What the goverment is doing is socialism taxing higher to the wealthy and spreading the wealth. What we are seeing is the euroipeanization of America. The reason why we seceded from the british colonies and made America in the first place!

That is my thoughts about the economy and why it is so bad.
Member Since: September 7, 2008 Posts: 17 Comments: 1604
its a mess just another case of bad management
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Corp. America has depended so much on investors buying stock as a means of capital for Company expansion and growth and cashflow. With this all gone, how many will now find it very hard. Many!
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The market grew very fast because more people was buying. Did not mean the stock was really worth what they was buying. But, demand blew up the market and lack of demand will now bring it back down....hard to say where confidence will begin to bring it up with more demand.
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
the chair is against the door our back is against the wall



I think there is a country song in here somewhere.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
Quoting Ossqss:


Several of my "in the know" friends (yeah I know, bankers) stated today for the first time that it will soon be published that we are in a depression. I am not sure if I buy that yet, but with the advent of the economy contracting far more than was thought, I cannot discount it. I can only prepare for the economic hurricane that may be upon us, just like any other bad weather. Stock up on beer and pretzels and bullets. and keep my eyes open. ª¿ª
the chair is against the door our back is against the wall
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Yes but after more than a decade of subnormal returns the stock market should do well. It did quadruple between 1932 and 1937, for instance.
On April 1 , 1932 the Dow was at 42. Not hard to quadruple that. I hope your right and so does my 101K.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Yes but after more than a decade of subnormal returns the stock market should do well. It did quadruple between 1932 and 1937, for instance.


We won't see 14000 again for 5 years or longer.
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Quoting Ossqss:
Taken note that the market is where it was 10 years ago or less. Take a look.

Link


Yes the Asian and Australian markets are getting hammered tonite....
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Weren't these the same people who were saying in 2007 that the stock market was a good buy when the Dow Jones was 14,100? Anyway, best not to be too cute. The stock market will almost certainly be MUCH higher in 10 years than it is today.

Although I do note the Japanese stock market is down more than 3% today....
Taken note that the market is where it was 10 years ago or less. Take a look.

Link
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
381. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
Mauritius Meteorological Services

Low [1004 hPa] located near 11.0S 72.0E

Low is expected to intensify further and move west-southwesterly
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Robin Hood of taxes


This is on the CNN web site......WOW!
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376. Ossqss 1:57 AM GMT on March 02, 2009

LOL!
Member Since: September 7, 2008 Posts: 17 Comments: 1604
Quoting SevereHurricane:


TS,

what do you mean by that? That can't be good though...


That's what i'm saying.....PROTECT YOUR INTEREST!
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Quoting SevereHurricane:
Humor always helps in tough times. :D


Here ya go -- some weather humor.

Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
Quoting TampaSpin:
Investors have been told to pull out and protect their customers and buy back at 5500..


TS,

what do you mean by that? That can't be good though...
Member Since: September 7, 2008 Posts: 17 Comments: 1604
Humor always helps in tough times. :D
Member Since: September 7, 2008 Posts: 17 Comments: 1604
Investors have been told to pull out and protect their customers and buy back at 5500..
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366. SevereHurricane 8:41 PM EST on March 01, 2009

Great pic.....that speaks volumes....LOL
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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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