Weather Whys

By Texas A&M University —

Q: There's been a
series of heat waves hitting much of the U.S. in recent weeks. Which
heat waves have been the worst killers in the United States?

A: There's no doubt that heat waves can cause a lot of fatalities,
says weather expert Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. “Last
year at this time, more than 8,000 temperature records had been broken
across the U.S. and so far this year, at least 76 deaths can be
attributed to extreme heat,” he notes. 

“The great
Dust Bowl period of the 1930s covered more than 50 million acres in the
Central U.S. and was a primary cause of a 1936 heat wave the killed more
than 5,000 people. In 1955, an eight-day heat wave killed 946 people in
Los Angeles and in 1972, a 14-day heat wave killed 891 in New York
City. During the summer of 1980, it is estimated that about 10,000
people were killed nationwide and that heat-related damages totaled over
$20 billion. The 1980 summer death toll far exceeded the annual
national average of about 400 deaths that are attributed to heat.”

What are some recent killer heat waves?

A: “In 1988, heat was thought to be the primary cause for 5,000 to
10,000 deaths during a summer heat wave in the central and eastern
United States. During a 5-day period in July 1995, more than 700 people
in Chicago died when heat indices reached more than 120 degrees,”
McRoberts explains.

“In 1999, a heat wave that gripped most of the U.S. killed more than
500 people. In 2003, one of history's worst heat waves occurred in
Europe when an estimated 70,000 people died, which included more than
14,000 deaths in France during the month of August. The World
Meteorological Organization deemed 2003 the warmest European summer
since at least 1540.”


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