FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Susan Weaver
NOAA, CDC Work To Save Lives From Potentially Deadly Heat
On the heels of the warmest spring on record in the United States, most of the nation can expect a summer sequel that promises warmer-than-normal temperatures according to the latest forecast from NOAA's National Weather Service. The National Weather Service's summer forecast calls for higher temperatures than normal across the U.S., particularly in the Southeast, the Southwest and the Midwest. La Niña, which has dominated global weather patterns for the past two years, is expected to linger into fall, contributing to the expected warmer, drier conditions in these sections of the country. The scorching temperatures will not help these same areas, already reeling from severe drought conditions. Last week record heat claimed 19 lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, a grim reminder of the lethal potential of heat waves.
As summer begins, the NWS, along with the Centers for Disease Control, are joining efforts to warn citizens that prolonged high temperatures and humidity can be dangerous. Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Jack Kelly, director of the National Weather Service, said forecasters, emergency managers and public health officials "will work to take the sting out of this silent killer -- intense heat. Heat waves may not be as dramatic as tornadoes, hurricanes or floods, but persistent high temperatures and high humidity have killed more people annually than any other weather phenomena over the last decade."
Kelly said local forecast offices will step up communications with health officials to give them the most advanced warning possible when a heat wave is imminent. "The more we do together to educate citizens about the potential deadly affects of excessive heat, the more lives we can save," he said.
"The hundreds of deaths in a heat wave are preventable," said Dr. Michael McGeehin of the Centers for Disease Control. "One of the most important factors in preventing these deaths is team work from the weather forecasters, to city officials. The main goal is saving lives."
Kelly pointed to Philadelphia as an outstanding example of teamwork among city leaders, health officials and forecasters fighting heat wave deaths. In the early 1990s, Philadelphia city leaders and health officials created a Heat Wave Preparedness Task Force, an aggressive public awareness and preparedness campaign, and emergency heat response plan. Dr. Lawrence Robinson, of the Philadelphia Health Department Commission, said the city realized the benefits of the plan when it faced a deadly heat wave in 1993.
"By the time the first fatalities were reported, we organized a press conference and had the active support of the Red Cross and other health groups," Robinson said. "Being proactive, even before the heat begins, is an effective way to communicate the point to citizens that heat kills and should not be taken lightly."
From 1989 - 1998, heat-related deaths outpaced fatalities in other severe weather categories. For example, based on this 10-year average, hurricanes killed 14 people annually, tornadoes claimed 57 lives, and lightning strikes and floods killed 58 and 99 people respectively. Excessive heat, however, killed an average of 193 in the same time period. In 1999, there were 497 heat related deaths -- more than fives times the 92 deaths caused by tornados.
In 1980, a stifling, lingering heat wave killed 1,700 in the East and Midwest; another East/Midwest heat wave killed 454 in 1988; in 1995, a heat wave claimed a total of 716 lives in Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and St. Louis; in 1998, a heat wave killed more than 120 in Texas alone.