Saturday, August 04, 2012

Heat Waves, Not Hurricanes, May Be Most Dangerous Weather

Elderly, people who live alone should take special care

By Mark Huffman,

Much of the U.S. remains in the grip of a severe drought brought on by a series of heat waves. While much attention has been focused on the impact this is having on crops and livestock, a medical historian says these heat waves are extremely dangerous for people too.

A hurricane might claim 100 lives as it devastates a coastal area. A tornado may kill a dozen people as it wipes a small town off the map. But a heat wave, says Richard Keller, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of medical history and bioethics, can kill tens of thousands.

Keller is compiling a detailed account of the epic 2003 heat wave that broiled parts of Europe that summer and killed an estimated 70,000 people. Over a three-week period in August that year, a massive high-pressure system parked over Europe, producing the hottest summer weather in more than 500 years and leading to most of those fatalities.

Melted electrical cables

It was so hot electrical cables melted, nuclear reactors could not be cooled, water pumps failed and museum specimens liquefied, Keller says.

Hurricane Katrina was perhaps the worst hurricane in recent memory when it devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005. The death toll was 1,836.

The European heat wave of 2003, meanwhile, took a deadly toll in France, when temperatures surpassed 100 degrees Fahrenheit on seven days.

“Measured by mortality, it was the worst natural disaster in contemporary France," said Keller.

Read the entire article here.

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