Hurricane Sandy has claimed casualties across the Eastern seaboard, with a death toll of at least 33 at last count. This, sadly, is part of a broader trend of increasing weather-related fatalities since the 1980s. While traditional weather-related dangers, such as lightning, have decreased in salience, heat waves and hurricanes are inflicting heavy casualties.
I tallied up results from the National Weather Service’s fatality data to see how deaths caused by weather-related events have changed over recent decades:
“Other” includes cold, winter/snow, rip current and miscellaneous weather events. Part of the increase in that category reflects better NWS record-keeping, but the spike is striking, nonetheless. Also of concern: The peaks since the ’80s have grown more severe. While in the 1940s and ’50s the worst years saw about 800 deaths, 1995 (with the Chicago heat wave) and 2005 (with Hurricane Katrina) each saw about 1,400 fatalities. And last year was nearly as grim, with 1,096 deaths, largely attributed to a a spike in tornado fatalities.
As Wonkblog’s Brad Plumer explained in a Monday post, it’s hard to attribute single weather events to climate change. But clearly something is causing the across-the-board rise in weather-related deaths, and global climate change, which worsens hurricanes and promotes heat waves and tornadoes, may be a prime culprit.