I get asked very often, “What is the most dangerous weather in the United States?
The answer is different is we’re talking about injuries or fatalities, and extremely dependent on the geographical region. Here in South-Central Texas, it’s flooding. In Arizona where I spend many years, it’s heat.
But, I did my research on data directly from the National Weather Service on weather-related fatalities & injuries in the past 10 years (2006-2015) across the United States, and the results may be a bit disturbing.
Weather-related deaths.as in fatalities that could be found to be directly related to weather totaled 5,515 in this ten-year span…averaging 552 a year, with the highest year being 2011 (hot & tornadic) with 1,096 deaths, and the lowest being 2009 with 373.
Injuries during this time span directly related to weather totaled 32,958, an average of 3,296 per year.
What’s most disturbing about these numbers is that the majority of the fatalities…nearly three-quarters of them…could have most likely been prevented. Generally, weather-related mishaps generally occur because the victim is either not aware of the hazardous weather, or not adequately prepared for it, either based on underestimation of the weather intensity, lack of resources, or pure negligence.
Of the top five fatal weather events, which are tornadoes, extreme heat, extreme cold, floods, and rip currents, one could make the case that most heat and cold related deaths (26%) could be avoided with proper precautions (like taking shelter, drinking plenty of water, wearing the right clothes, etc).
Flooding (15%) can also be avoided in most cases if effort is made to avoid flood-prone areas, and refraining from driving through flooded roads, washes, and ditches.
Rip Currents can be a bit more tough to avoid if they suddenly appear and panic sets in, but they can easily be traversed by swimming parallel to the beach (I've done it). But, they accounted for 10% of weather-related deaths in the past 10 years.
That leaves tornadoes (20%), which are often unavoidable, but life-saving precautions are still extremely effective, such as taking shelter in basements, storm shelters, fortified parts of houses (like interior closets or bathrooms), or low-lying areas (if nothing else).
Injuries, on the other hand, differ a bit from weather-related fatalities. In the case of the past ten years, tornadoes accounted for the most injuries (40%). Again, although tornadoes are often unavoidable and destructive, proper precautions can be taken to reduce the risk of injury and death.
Extreme heat-related injuries took second place (31%), which can arguably be largely avoided by staying inside on hot days, and proper hydration. Often, heat is more deadly to children and the elderly. One of the largest heat-related injuries and death causes to young children (and animals) is by locking them in the car on hot days…an average of 36 per year (children only). Lightning assumes responsibility for 5% of the past ten years’ injuries, which often can be avoided by staying under shelter.
So…the communication of these hazardous weather events must be flawed, if we assume that most people are aware, and have the capability to be prepared for bad weather. But statistic show that there are many causalities due to weather that could be avoided. Either the information being presented about this bad weather is incorrect, or it’s not taken seriously by the viewer, and I think both can be true.
Media is flooded with hype, and under-educated in meteorology. But, with the exception of tornadoes, the other leading weather-related injuries and deaths are caused by weather events that many wouldn’t ever guess were big-time killers…Temperature? Flooded Ditches? Rip Currents? Notice how Hurricanes don’t make the top-five list…and that’s because people take those seriously. Lightning isn’t a top-five killer, and neither are winter storms, like blizzards. That’s because folks take proper action to prepare for or avoid them. Yes, they are very deadly! But so are many other weather events that society fails to think about.
Extreme Heat has been the primary killer in the past 10 years, surpassing tornado-related deaths by 31 in a ten-year span. Flooding caused more deaths than lightning, winter storms, hurricanes, wildfires, avalanches, hail storms, and dust storms combined. Over 10,000 heat-related injuries could have been either avoided or mitigated.
- Meteorologist Dan Schreiber
Dan Schreiber is a freelance meteorologist with experience