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Explorations: Dangerous Heat

Heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths, but most people don’t realize this because the deaths are seldom obviously caused by heat. Also, the numbers of heat-related deaths depend more on where a heat wave strikes than how high temperatures rise.

These points are made by Laurence Kalkstein, professor of geography at the University of Delaware and a leading expert on heat deaths, in a question-and-answer story on This story was done in response to reports about the extreme heat wave that caused thousands of deaths across Europe, especially in France, in 2003. An Associated Press story, published online by, is one example of how deadly this heat wave was. It awoke Europeans to the dangers of heat waves.

Meteorologists and public health officials in the United States had learned this lesson and started looking for ways to reduce heat’s death toll by the 1980s. The July 29–31, 1999, extreme heat wave in Chicago and other parts of the Midwest helped prompt NOAA and others to increase their efforts to reduce the death toll. A report on the NWS Chicago Forecast Office Web site describes this event. Eric Klinenberg tells the story of the human effects of this heat wave in his book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002). Klinenberg also talks about the disaster in an interview on the University of Chicago Web site.

The Looking to the Future section on page 275 of The AMS Weather Book is based on a United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs report, World Population Ageing: 1950–2050.

book jacket
The AMS Weather Book:The Ultimate Guide to America’s Weather
Jack Williams
With Forewords by Rick Anthes and Stephanie Abrams
©2009, 368 pages, 140 color plates, 70 halftones 8-1/2 x 10-7/8
Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 9780226898988

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