Heatwaves Deadlier than Storms, says ‘Death Map’

Hurricanes and earthquakes win more headlines but heatwaves claim most lives, according to a survey of mortality from natural threats in the United States, published on Wednesday.

The “death map” says hazard mortality is highest in the US South, where a variety of threats are to blame, followed by the northern Great Plains, where heat and drought are the greatest natural risks, then the Rocky Mountains, where the killers are chiefly winter weather and flooding.

The safest place, in terms of protection against the forces of nature, are parts of the Midwest or cities in the Northeast.

The study is published by an open-access British review, the International Journal of Health Geographics.

Reseachers Susan Cutter and Kevin Borden of the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina used geographical and epidemiological data to build a picture of mortality at county level from 11 causes.

Heat and drought accounted for 19.6 percent of total deaths.

This was followed by severe summer weather, where hail, lightning and thunderstorms, accounted for 18.8 percent of deaths; and by severe winter weather, where snow and ice were to blame for 18.1 percent of fatalities.

Earthquakes, wildfires and hurricanes were responsible for less than five percent of all deaths from natural hazards combined.

“Over time, highly destructive, highly publicized, often catastrophic singular events such as hurricanes and earthquakes are responsible for relatively few deaths when compare to the more frequent, less catastrophic events,” the paper notes.

As for sub-regions, “significant clusters” of high mortality occurred in the lower Mississippi Valley, upper Great Plains and Mountain West, with additional areas in west Texas and the Florida panhandle.

Conversely, big clusters of low mortality are in the Midwest and urbanized Northeast.

The authors say their work seeks to guide emergency planners over how to allocate resources to areas and people most at risk.

The data derives from a database of 3,070 county-sized areas from 1970-2004, from which Hawaii and Alaska was excluded. The period under study did not include 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina, which claimed more than 1,500 lives.

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