And For Deadliest Natural Disasters, the Winner is…

Map of land surface temperature anomalies for June 17–24, 2012. Based on data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite, the map depicts temperatures compared to the 2000–2011 average for the same eight day period in June. Obviously, red depicts warmer temperatures while blue depicts cooler, and white is about the same.

If you drive the streets around New Orleans today, you’ll still see plenty of carnage that reminds us all that Hurricane Katrina hasn’t nearly been overcome yet. Perhaps the greatest tragedy, however, isn’t what the storm left behind. It’s what it took – 1,836 lives, to be exact.

But the giant hurricane ain’t got nothing on heat.

More so than hurricanes, tidal waves, tornados, earthquakes or the depths of winter, the dog days of summer are by far the deadliest natural disaster that can strike a nation, state or community. If you don’t believe me, take it from Richard Keller, a professor of medical history and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin.

According to Keller, one of the worst summers in recorded history happened in Europe in 2003. During three sizzling weeks, the hottest summer weather in more than 500 years melted electrical cables, stopped nuclear reactors from being cooled, made water pumps fail and even liquefied museum specimens. But again, the damage measured by lives lost was much worse.

Thanks to seven straight days of 100+ degree weather, the heat wave was the worst natural disaster in contemporary France. According to official tallies, 14,802 people died.

And across the entire continent of Europe, the heat killed an estimated 70,000.

Hardest hit were those on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. Those living without air conditioning, on the top floors of poorly ventilated buildings were more vulnerable to dropping like flies. Likewise, the elderly were more at risk, as they often don’t drink enough fluids or might be taking medications that exasperate the situation.

So as this country continues through one of the driest and warmest summers on record, keep those in your life in mind that meet those criteria. It might not hurt to check in on them every now and then.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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