NOAA: Deaths Caused by Severe Weather Hit 22-Year Low in 2014

Barbara Hollingsworth | November 12, 2015 | 12:58pm EST
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Deaths from rip-currents topped the list of weather-related fatalities in 2014. (AP photo)

( – Severe weather caused 333 deaths in the United States in 2014, according to the National Weather Service's Summary of Natural Hazard Statistics for 2014.

That was the fewest in 22 years.

"Fortunately, the United States was again spared any major land falling tropical storms. There were no U.S. tropical storm related deaths in 2014," according to the report.

The last time there were fewer "fatalities caused by severe weather" was in 1992, when 308 such deaths were recorded, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"For the third consecutive year, weather-related deaths dropped significantly," said the NOAA summary. NOAA reported 446 fatalities caused by severe weather in 2013 and 528 in 2012.

The 2014 number was also "below the 10-year average of 638 deaths," the summary stated.

Twice as many males (67 percent) as females (30 percent) died from extreme weather conditions last year, according to NOAA.

Rip-currents caused the most severe weather-related fatalities (57) in 2014, followed by wind (54), tornadoes (47), cold (43), winter (41), lightning (26), heat (20), and hurricanes (zero).

A spokeswoman for NOAA told that the fatality figures are a compilation of "weather-related deaths when we have weather warnings in place," noting that they do not include all weather-related fatalities in the U.S.

Source: NOAA

NOAA data on deaths caused by lightning, tornadoes, floods and hurricanes go back to 1940. The agency added heat- and winter-related fatalities in 1986, and cold-related fatalities in 1988.

Two additional categories were added later: wind fatalities in 1996 and rip-current fatalities in 2002. However, even with the addition of these two categories, the 333 deaths in 2014 were still the fewest since 1992.

These 333 deaths cause by severe weather included 20 excessive-heat-related fatalities, including 12 in Nevada. That was down from 92 excessive-heat-related fatalities in 2013.

There were 43 cold-related and 41 winter-related deaths in 2014. These included those caused by winter storms, ice and avalanches. IIllinois had with the highest cold-related death toll (21). 

The NOAA spokeswoman said that 48 percent of the winter-related fatalities involved vehicular accidents caused by ice and winter storms.

The National Weather Service (NWS) issues excessive heat warnings “when the maximum heat index is expected to be 105 degrees or higher for at least two days and night time air temperatures will not drop below 75 degrees.”

Extreme cold warnings are based on the windchill index, defined as “a combination of ambient temperatures at or below 40 F and wind speeds greater than or equal to 3 mph that can lead to dangerous hypothermia and/or frostbite conditions.”

The 20 heat-related fatalities in 2014 were far below their 10-year average of 124. The number of deaths in 2014 from other weather-related causes such as tornadoes, floods and hurricanes were also all below their 10-year averages.

Source: NOAA

However, the number of cold- and winter-related fatalities exceeded their 10-year averages of 29 and 27 respectively.

Since 1986, when NOAA began keeping temperature-related fatality statistics, there were a total of 3,839 heat-related deaths, compared to 1,940 cold- and winter-related fatalities.

The highest number of heat-related fatalities during the past 29 years occurred in 1995, when 1,021 people died, according to NOAA. 

"1995 was a disastrous year for heat-related fatalities," the agency noted.  Many of the deaths that year occurred in Chicago during a record July heat wave. 

"The July 1995 heat wave at Chicago and Milwaukee was a highly rare, and in some respects, unprecedented disaster," the agency noted.

In 2014, 20 people died as a result of extreme heat, down dramatically from the 2013 total of 92 fatalities and even more dramatically from the 2012 total of 155. This number is well below the 10-year average for heat-related fatalities (124).

2004 tied with 1989 for the lowest number of heat-related deaths during the past three decades, with six reported in each of those years.

1989 also had the highest number of cold- and winter-related fatalities, which totaled 164 that year.

According to the NOAA data, weather-related incidents in 2014 caused $7.6 billion in crop and property damage, down from $12.7 billion in 2013.


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