Winter kills: Excess Deaths in the Winter Months

108,500 Deaths in the US in 2008; 36,700 in England and Wales Last Winter; 5,600 in Canada (2006); 7,000 in Australia (1997-2006 Average); Thousands in Other Developed Countries

Indur M. Goklany

Since extreme cold has gripped much of the Northern Hemisphere, some newspapers have been keeping a tally of the number of deaths obviously caused by extreme cold (e.g., freezing). But the BBC’s Health Correspondent, Clare Murphy, in a very timely and, in my opinion, excellent article, How cold turns up the heat on health, reminds us that many more deaths occur from chronic conditions that are exacerbated by cold weather.  She also notes that, “For every degree the temperature drops below 18C, deaths in the UK go up by nearly 1.5%.”

Following is a compilation of excess deaths during the winter months (compared to what occurs on average during the rest of the year) in a number of developed countries in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Unfortunately, our politicians complain about the warmth and would like to make the climate cooler if they could, even as they bemoan the costs of health care.

United States. 2001-2008



Figure 1: Average daily deaths for each month, United States, 2001-2008. Sources: 2001-2004 data from National Center for Health Statistics, DataWarehouse at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/datawh/statab/unpubd/mortabs/gmwkIV_10.htm, and National Vital Statistics System available at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/deaths.htm; 2005 data from Births, Marriages, Divorces, and Deaths: Provisional Data for 2006, Volume 55, Number 20, 6 pp (PHS 2007-1120); 2006 data from Births, Marriages, Divorces, and Deaths: Provisional Data for 2007.  NVSR Volume 56, Number 21, 6 pp (PHS) 2008-1120; 2007-08 data from Births, Marriages, Divorces, and Deaths: Provisional Data for 2008.  NVSR Volume 57, Number 19, 6 pp.

The figure above, based on data from the US National Center for Health Statistics for 2001-2008, shows that on average 7,200 Americans died each day during the months of December, January, February and March, compared to the average 6,400 who died daily during the rest of the year. In 2008, there were 108,500 “excess” deaths during the 122 days in the cold months (January to March and December; it was a leap year).

Canada, 1991-2006

Figure 2, based on data from CANSIM for 1991-20068, shows that on average 656 Canadians died daily in January compared to 546 per day in August.  In 2006, there were 5,640 excess deaths during the winter months in Canada.

Figure 2: Average daily deaths for each month, Canada, 1991-2006. Source: CANSIM (2009).

England & Wales, 1950/51-2008/09

Figure 3: Excess winter mortality, England and Wales, 1950/51–2008/09.  Source: UK ONS (2009).

Figure 3 shows that despite an increase in the population of England and Wales, excess winter deaths have generally declined since the 1950s due, probably, to increased affluence, better heating and insulation, clothing and any warming (whether due to UHI or global warming). [Also, some readers may know more about this, but I believe rationing was still in force in the UK in the early 1950s. Poor nutrition would have exacerbated mortality.]

However, last winter (Dec 2008-Mar 2009), there was a remarkably large jump in the excess number of winter deaths, perhaps due to colder/damper weather and increased fuel prices.  The UK’s Office of National Statistics states:

“In the winter period of December to March 2008/09 there were an estimated 36,700 more deaths in England and Wales, compared with the average for the non-winter period (see definition below). This was an increase of 49 per cent compared with the number in the previous winter 2007/08. This is the highest number of excess winter deaths since the winter of 1999/2000, when excess winter mortality was nearly a third higher than in 2008/09.”

It will be interesting to see the figures when data are available for this year.

Other Developed Countries

Figure 4: Monthly percentage variation in mortality compared to yearly average over the last years in European Mediterranean countries and other selected countries worldwide. Countries in the legend are listed according the absolute number of average deaths per day observed, in descending order. Source: Fagalas et al. (2009).

Finally, Figure 4 shows the percent variation in monthly mortality relative to annual averages for recent years in various developed countries.   Notably, even Greece and Cyprus (!) have greater mortality in the winter months, even though one would not classify either of them as particularly cold places. See the Table above.

References:

Falagas ME, Karageorgopoulos DE, Moraitis LI, Vouloumanou EK, Roussos N, Peppas G, Rafailidis PI (2009). Seasonality of mortality: the September phenomenon in Mediterranean countries. CMAJ 181(8): 484-6.

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74 thoughts on “Winter kills: Excess Deaths in the Winter Months

  1. So, could this be a better correlation to sunlight? Most of my relatives have died in the winter, and cold was not a factor.

    What is the correlation between cold and births, allowing an appropriate gestation factor? We have seen a quite positive correlation with power outages in years past, if you believe the press stories.

  2. Cold kills. The last sensation is you don’t feel it anymore, and just want to go to sleep. A deadly lullaby.
    Last year it was a fight for survival in the Yukon. This years the jaws of cold has spread.
    And yet, they still want us to believe that global warming causes global cooling. An equally deadly lullaby.
    Don’t prepare, don’t adapt, warming is coming soon. Now go to sleep.

  3. 18 – (1/0.015) = -48 2/3

    -48 2/3 * 9/5 + 32 = -55.6

    So if it drops to -49C (-56F), everyone dies?

    Maybe a linear relationship isn’t exactly correct…

  4. In Oz, the deaths go down pretty deeply for Dec, Jan and Feb, and Oz is hotter than most developed countries, being the only one with any, let alone significant, tropical areas. We can get 40C on the coast even in Sydney, and 50C inland is not unusual, although not many live inland (funny, that).

    And heat would kill people? I don’t think the evidence supports that.

  5. I can confirm Indur that rationing was in place until the early 50s in the UK. There’s some academic argument as to the health merits of the policy though.

  6. Not sure why the Greek researchers (Falagas et al) felt that winter in Australia was four months long, compared to the normal three months in the northern hemisphere countries considered. In my part of Australia, winter is usually only July and August (= 2 months), and I am in the southern half of the country.

    Perhaps because Melbourne (Australia) has one of the largest Greek populations in the world and it also has the ability to have winter days any month of the year? (Aussie from elsewhere in the country reckon Melbourne to be a city where you can easily experience the four seasons in the one day).

  7. Terry Jackson (23:00:32) :
    “So, could this be a better correlation to sunlight? Most of my relatives have died in the winter, and cold was not a factor.”

    I studied influenza a few years ago and a large number of deaths in older people are due to lung infections, particularly flu and associated pneumonia.

    Regarding higher flu/pneumonia in winter, studies show that flu spreads better when it is colder and in higher absolute humidity.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071019090004.htm

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090209205148.htm

    Flu vaccines also don’t work as well with older people due to a reduced immune response. The current N1H1 is an exception as older people seem to have some immunity.

    Regarding sunlight. Sunlight produces vitamin D which seems to enhance the immune system. A lot of people consider vitamin D a better alternative to flu vaccine. I had my flu vaccine just in case. Besides I am in Beijing, and sitting outside in -20C to generate vitamin D is not my idea of enhancing my health.

    Mal

  8. Peter Pond (00:08:45) :

    Not sure why the Greek researchers (Falagas et al) felt that winter in Australia was four months long, compared to the normal three months in the northern hemisphere countries considered. In my part of Australia, winter is usually only July and August (= 2 months), and I am in the southern half of the country.

    I think it’s just the way the winter months are written for the Northern hemisphere, for some reason December was put last.
    I overlooked it at first glance myself and I’m not even Victorian.

  9. From the BBC: First their propoganda and lies:

    From the BBC weather Centre:
    Climate researchers predict that the UK climate will become warmer, with high temperatures in the summer becoming more frequent and very cold winters more rare. Winters will become wetter with heavier rain more common.
    Some scientists have suggested that a warmer world will be a sicker world.
    ..The effects on general UK health are likely to be less severe than in other parts of the world.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/climate/impact/human_health.shtml

    (This page was last updated in July 2009 We have left it there for refernce)

    Someone Please copy it before they remove it.

    Less Severe? You mean fewer persons will die of the extreme heat?

    BBC Thursday, 14 February, 2002 “Some pensioners have had to choose between buying food and fuel, and campaigners say 30,000 people die annually from cold-related diseases… The energy review published by the UK Government spells out the way to a much cleaner, more efficient economy. It is a radical vision of the sort that comes once in a generation…Some environmental campaign groups have criticised the review for not rejecting nuclear power outright…” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/1820923.stm

    BBC Monday, 15 September, 2003 “Every winter an EXTRA 20,000 to 50,000 people die because their homes aren’t warm enough ..the National Consumer Council.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/3109154.stm

    BBC Monday, 24 October 2005 “Cold ‘kills eight OAPs each hour’ ” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4371096.stm

    BBC Monday, 19 December 2005 “There are between 60,000 and 80,000 cold-related deaths in the UK annually, but many disabled people have no option but to cut back on heating their houses, even though living in low temperatures often aggravates the effects of their impairments.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ouch/2005/12/in_the_balance.html

    BBC Monday, 13 March 2006 “The charity Age Concern has predicted that 20,000 over-65s will die between December 2005 and March 2006 from cold-related illness.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/the_daily_politics/4801534.stm

    “Thousands of older people die each year from cold-related illnesses in the winter months, according to Age Concern. The charity told BBC London’s Evadney Campbell that in six years more than 150,000 over 65’s died.”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/london/content/articles/2007/12/07/croydon_cold_kills_video_feature.shtml

  10. Winter deaths in Britain in the 1950’s were also probably connected to the terrible smogs (smoke & Fog) caused through everybody burning coal fires, this caused many deaths through breathing problems and tailed off when the clean air act was introduced.

  11. Maybe Labour will now ban winter and the blame the Tories or the NHS or any other organisation for the natural seasonal death rate.

    I can almost hear Gordon Brown now, “ We have banned winter. It’s the right thing to do.”

  12. Re: kadaka (23:07:12) :

    18 – (1/0.015) = -48 2/3

    -48 2/3 * 9/5 + 32 = -55.6

    So if it drops to -49C (-56F), everyone dies?

    Maybe a linear relationship isn’t exactly correct…

    Your maths demonstrates that if the temperature drops to -49C then the average number of deaths will have gone up by 100% , not that 100% of the population will die.
    In other words, if on average 1000 people die at 18C then 2000 will die at -49C.

    The relationship wont but linear but 1.5% is a good approximation for the normal temperature range of the UK.

  13. Certainly for the UK, cold deaths are not unusual however, one thing is for sure as fuel prices rise and “weather” become hasher, the numbers will increase and not only in the retired/poor demographics.

    Of course the UK gubmint will celebrate. Increased revenue (CO2 taxes), decreased costs (Those pesky OAPs not drawing their pensions), planet saved and population reduced. Job done tick. They can all go pat themselves on the back, job well done.

  14. The U.S. has 108,500 to Canada’s 5,640 excess deaths. That’s quite a difference.

    Insights, anyone?

  15. Terry Jackson (23:00:32) : “So, could this be a better correlation to sunlight? Most of my relatives have died in the winter, and cold was not a factor.”

    I have no idea, Terry. But I suppose a good start might be to look at regions within a country, like comparing Florida with Minnesotta, and see how the winter deaths compare.

    Or even northern states compared to each other. Who knows what that would turn up? As I noticed, the excess winter deaths in Canada compared to the U.S. are quite stark, and that couldn’t be because Canadian winters are sunnier…

  16. I seem to remember reading that it’s not so much hypotermia that kills the old folk in the UK, but when they get cold it reduces their immunity to any other problems they have like weak hearts.

    I vaguely remember rationing but I think the general consensus was that the population was much healthier then because of the lack of meat in the diet. But in the fifties we were poor, our housing was damp and cold, and life was tough for a lot of people.

  17. The Daily Mail has an interesting story today:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1241209/BBC-probes-bias-science-coverage.html

    BBC probes bias in its coverage of science and the environment

    07th January 2010

    The body which oversees the BBC is to launch a full-scale review into whether its coverage of science and the environment is biased. The BBC Trust acted after a string of complaints that the corporation is acting as a cheerleader for the theory that climate change is a man-made phenomenon. There have also been concerns over its coverage of genetically-modified foods and the MMR vaccine.

    The year-long investigation will establish whether the complaints are justified – and could result in guidelines on how to treat important scientific stories. It will scrutinise the way the BBC has handled scientific debate in areas which affect ‘public policy’ and are ‘matters of political controversy’.

    Richard Tait, BBC trustee and chairman of the governing body’s editorial standards committee, said: ‘Science is an area of great importance to licence fee payers, which provokes strong reaction and covers some of the most sensitive editorial issues the BBC faces.

    ‘Heated debate in recent years around topics like climate change, GM crops and the MMR vaccine reflects this, and BBC reporting has to steer a course through these controversial issues while remaining impartial. The BBC has a well-earned reputation for the quality of its science reporting, but it is also important that we look at it afresh to ensure that it is adhering to the very high standards that licence fee payers expect.’

    A scientific expert will be hired to lead the review and it will concentrate on coverage of the issues featured in its news and factual output to see whether they meet the corporation’s Royal Charter and requirement that controversial subjects are covered impartially. The review will also focus on the way the BBC reports on new technologies including Wi-Fi wireless internet.

    The review comes after repeated criticism of the broadcaster’s handling of green issues. Critics have claimed that it has not fairly represented the views of sceptics who do not agree that climate change is caused by human action, leading to a string of complaints over coverage of the issue.

    Lord Monckton, a leading climate change sceptic, has claimed that his views have been deliberately misrepresented by the BBC. He said he had been made to look like a ‘potty peer’ on a TV programme that ‘was a one-sided polemic for the new religion of global warming’.

    Earth: The Climate Wars, which was broadcast on BBC 2 in September 2008, was billed as a definitive guide to the history of global warming, including arguments for and against.

    Last night, Lord Monckton, a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, said: ‘My complaint against the BBC is not about one programme, it is that there has been a relentless institutional prejudice against the very large number of eminent climate scientists who fundamentally disagree with all the major conclusions that we are told inaccurately is the scientific consensus about climate change. It is high time the BBC examined itself.’

    ……………………………………..
    So there you have it. Look out next year for the verdict. In the meantime, the British Brainwashing Corporation can carry on broadcasting whatever it wants.

  18. And from that well-known organ of AGW propaganda, the BBC.

    Global warming dominates the headlines, but in the UK the cold of winter is much more hazardous to health – especially for the elderly and the sick.
    For every degree the temperature drops below 18C, deaths in the UK go up by nearly 1.5%.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8442413.stm

  19. Re: Terry Jackson (23:00:32) :

    So, could this be a better correlation to sunlight? Most of my relatives have died in the winter, and cold was not a factor.

    I doubt it. Where I live in the UK we are now experiencing our second day of sunshine since the snow fell on Tuesday. The outside temperature is -3C. Tomorrows forecast is the same. This pattern of sunlight with low temperatures is not that uncommon in the UK so if the deaths where correlated to sunlight I would expect them to pick that up fairly quickly.

    They do check for health related correlations to sunlight as I’ve seen figures years ago that correlated the numbers of suicides and people suffering from depression with the amount of sunlight.

  20. Excellent dig. WUWT should keep a close watch on mortality vs cold.
    It’s argueably the most cutting inflamatory taboo for AGWer’s that they are compounding the very serious cold death problem during the 20 year gleissburg solar minimum we now face with their global warming rhetoric. Not murder in the 1st, but perhaps a skeptic lawyer could issue an intetnt to sue every AGWer for manslaughter by willful neglect.

  21. Did i get that right, the swedes are the only people that like to live in the cold and die when it’s getting warmer?

  22. “TerryS (03:06:39) :
    […]
    I doubt it. Where I live in the UK we are now experiencing our second day of sunshine since the snow fell on Tuesday.[…]”

    In the northern countries, you will not produce any Vitamin D during the winter months even when the sun is shining. The sun is too low; its rays have to go through too much atmosphere and the UV is essentially absorbed. Forget it and do some Vitamin D pils instead. I think it’s called a “polar winter”. Or use a sunbench if you want to.

    You can build up Vitamin D storage during the summer months simply by getting a tan, exercize outdoors etc… It’s stored in the fatty tissue. But you can’t build up any through sunlight in the winter months.

  23. “DirkH (03:14:33) :

    Did i get that right, the swedes are the only people that like to live in the cold and die when it’s getting warmer?”

    Sorry ;-) New Zealand and Sweden have the same color in that graph…

  24. Just got a text messages from my mum in Clanfield, Hampshire, UK. They are snowed in. Snowed in!!! So much for Gorebull warming.

  25. For those who like to chant about “departure from normal” and then
    say how much “warmer” most of Canada is since the cold has slipped
    down into US48:

    http://www.weatheroffice.gc.ca/canada_e.html

    …no danger of defrosting the tundra up north !

    Most of these tempertures will still kill you… it might take a half hour more than other years.

  26. There is a jump in mortality rates for the US in July and August that returns to the pack in September. Vacationing from work and school is more dangerous here than elsewhere. Or is it excessive exposure to air conditioning?

  27. Benjamin (01:26:40) :

    > The U.S. has 108,500 to Canada’s 5,640 excess deaths. That’s quite a difference.

    > Insights, anyone?

    Speculation:

    The winter storm track is consistently south of Canada, so Canadians expect it to be cold and prepare for it.

    In the US, the storm track rarely makes it as far south as it is this winter, so people are often unprepared and don’t have good insulation, heat, snow tires or winter skills.

    Also, a lot of American retirees move south to escape the cold and may not be able to handle it when it catches up to them.

    Maybe the CDC or NIH could apply for some climate change funding to look into it.

  28. One thing I would like to see is not just the numbers of deaths but a percentage based upon population. As some one asked upthread about why American deaths are higher then Canadian deaths there are two reasons why. One, America has a population of approximately 330 million versus Canadas 33 million. As well all houses up here in Canada are built for winter conditions and properly insulated. A lot of American houses in the south have no insulation and don’t have a proper furnace when you get cold snaps like what Florida is currently going through. That will have an effect on cold deaths.

  29. Benjamin

    The US population is about 15 times as large? Your quite starck thing is not, it may be a small difference in rate. But, the main reason the numbers are so much higher in the US are that the population is that much larger.

  30. kadaka (23:07:12) :

    “18 – (1/0.015) = -48 2/3

    -48 2/3 * 9/5 + 32 = -55.6

    So if it drops to -49C (-56F), everyone dies?

    Maybe a linear relationship isn’t exactly correct…”

    Interesting argument. Of course when you extrapolate to the extreme condition you probably get bizarre results. As an example if the temperature dropped below -48.67C more than 100% of the population would die. But as a practical matter I think that if the temperature in the UK dropped to -48.67C the death rate would skyrocket.

  31. Death from cold is AGW’s elephant in the room.

    The (mostly Northern hemisphere) excess deaths from cold that would be avoided by a few of degrees extra heat vastly out-weigh the (mostly Africa and Southern hemisphere) extra deaths that would caused by that same heating.

    I think Bjorn Lomborg looked into it in “Cool It”, I forget the figure, but it was about 10-1.

  32. Al Baby has protected himself, just in case of such eventuality, with thick layers of grease around his body, which will preserve him from extinction.

  33. Here’s a quick redo of the numbers into “Deaths per 10,000 population”,
    which makes the proportions nicely visible.

    United States 3.52
    Canada 1.65
    Britain 5.92
    Australia 3.16
    New Zealand 3.67
    Japan 4.00
    France 3.84
    Italy 6.22
    Spain 5.13
    Sweden 4.28
    Greece 5.13

  34. The global changes in average surface temperatures caused by the detonation of 100 Hiroshima-size weapons in the cities of India and Pakistan (50 weapons in each nation) would act to decrease the length of growing seasons in the Northern Hemisphere. In some places like Canada (see map below) the decreases in average temperature would have drastic effects upon the ability to grow the annual wheat crop. It is predicted that wheat exports would cease for three or more years; the global decreases in grain production would be severe and would likely lead to a global nuclear famine affecting hundreds of millions of already hungry people (see the article by Dr. Ira

    http://www.nucleardarkness.org/warconsequences/reducedcanadianwheatgrowing/

    Now assume that global average surface temperatures decline is due to periodic and regular normal planetary cycles. It only takes 1-2 C decline in average temperatures during the growing season or a shortened growing season due to an extended extra cold spring like happened in parts of Canada in 2009 to seriously cut our crop harvests. The average summer temperature in 2009 in the Canadian Prairies dropped 1.1C and 0.3 C in the Prairies and Northwestern Prairies . There was a 20% drop in Canadian crops . So we are coming very close to the danger zone in crop losses already in some regions of North America . The same could be coming to Europe and Asia as well.

    My purpose for posting this is that with all the alarmism, unreal hype and focus on global warming 100 year from now [which may turn out to be a false threat entirely], we are ignoring the fact there is a real threat which is much more immanent ], namely a natural cool cycle of 20-30 years . Crop shortages , fossil fuel shortages , inflation, and economic turmoil like the 1970.s are a very real possibility unless we get real about where our focus is . Cutting carbon dioxide emissions or focusing only on global warming will not heat our home during these cooler periods but oil and gas may help us to survive .Lets not panic and demonize fossil fuels prematurely. It may be our salvation until we develop other sources of clean energy in comparable volume and cost.

  35. Wondering Aloud (06:48:58) : “The US population is about 15 times as large? Your quite starck thing is not, it may be a small difference in rate.”

    Yes, I had thought of that before posting. But as a percentage of population (for whatever that’s worth), Canada has about 50% fewer winter deaths than the U.S. Kind of odd, considering that it gets colder up there. But maybe that does explain it. But I’m more inclined to think that…

    Ric Werme (06:08:26) : “Speculation: The winter storm track is consistently south of Canada, so Canadians expect it to be cold and prepare for it.”

    I wondered the same too. But people living out in the country down here usually do prepare (they love to let us city-slickers know that kind of stuff). And in the city, unless one doesn’t have heat to begin with, how much preparation is required to turn up the heat, wear heavier clothes, blankets, etc?

    So there’s still much to wonder about there. I did think of another possibility, though since posting.

    One thing I do know about Canada, having been to Toronto, Montreal, and Calgary many times… No homeless people. Or if they do have them, they’re few and/or very well hidden! I haven’t come across anything that shows this to be the case, so it’s still speculation. Still, this might well explain the difference, or at least a good part of it.

    Anyway, I was wondering if there was anything on this that confirms why. One of the reasons I’m wondering about this is that it might figure into the healthcare “debate”. Socialists love to point to Canada as a shining picture of health whenever the U.S. is mentioned in the same paragraph, but maybe coming down on the winter deaths would put a dent in their argument (and perhaps put money to better use, to really save some lives).

    Been looking around, and I’ll keep my eyes open, but if anyone has a link I’d much appreciate it!

  36. Watts going on ?

    When there is an exceptional waether event in the UK (heavy prolonged rainfall with floods, or a cold snap), there is almost always an accepted reason for why it happens, which is a change in the position of the jet stream – coming lower over the UK rather than just over the top of Scotland.

    But now? Exceptional cold over Europe (including the UK), Russia, China, most of the USA ?? Has anybody a sensible reason for the whole Northern hemisphere suddenly suffering great cold?

    has it to do with the quiet Sun? No doubt the IPPC will just laugh that out of court…..

  37. PaladinPhil (08:27:03) : “Hey Polistra. Thanks for that break down into deaths per. Goes to show that Canada knows how to deal with winters.”

    Same here! I should have looked at the other countries, instead of just the U.S. and Canada…

  38. See: Ch 9 Human Health Effects of Climate Change Reconsidered

    * Global warming reduces the incidence of cardiovascular disease related to low temperatures and wintry weather by a much greater degree than it increases the incidence of cardiovascular disease associated with high temperatures and summer heat waves.

    * Mortality due to respiratory diseases decrease as temperatures rise and as temperature variability declines.

    Total heat-related mortality rates have been shown to be lower in warmer climates and to be unaffected by rising temperatures during the twentieth century.

    For further details see:
    Chapter 9.1 Diseases

    9.1.1. Cardiovascular Diseases
    9.1.2. Respiratory Diseases
    9.1.3. Malaria
    9.1.4. Tick-Borne Diseases
    9.1.5. Heat-Related Morbidity

  39. Interesting that the worst effects are in countries where winters are not so harsh as to make proper planning for them economically sensible.

    UK, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

    I wonder whether the construction industries will be told to take note of that in those countries, eh?

  40. Benjamin (01:26:40) :

    > The U.S. has 108,500 to Canada’s 5,640 excess deaths. That’s quite a difference.

    > Insights, anyone?

    Here’s a different take on this anomaly:
    In Canada so many retires are snowbirds that travel to the southern US for the winter. Any deaths (from this older demographic) would be recorded with a US death certificate not a Canadian one. Thus skewing the US winter count slightly up, but more significantly skewing the Canadian winter count down.

    It’s just a thought.

  41. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12843774CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that stroke occurrence rises with decreasing temperature, and that even a moderate decrease in temperature can increase the risk of ischemic stroke. Susceptible people should take steps to protect themselves from cold, especially in the winter.

  42. ? (07:46:21) :

    kadaka: You should read more carefully

    True, and I should avoid doing too much late night math. Granted back in college I was doing advanced calculus for my physics degree, but then local economic conditions lead to a career where simple trigonometry was an advanced concept. Programming a VMC from scratch for 4140 or even 6061-T6 is more my current forte. Knowledge withers when not in use, guess I better dig out my old books.

    TerryS (01:10:25) :
    David S (07:04:09) :

    Of course a time element would be introduced into the relationship. As it stays at the extreme cold longer, more of the vulnerable would die, especially as supply shortages advance. Then it should plateau when it gets down to the hardiest survivors, with a death rate that will likely be greater than the “warm” amount but not so drastically severe as the 1.5% figure.

    Of course if the UK were cut off from outside sources and had to endure those temperatures continually, after five years, maybe ten, there may only be a handful left. Let us hope the globe has not entered into some catastrophic cooling event; I for one am in no hurry to collect the data to figure out the real relationship.

  43. Benjamin (01:26:40) :

    The U.S. has 108,500 to Canada’s 5,640 excess deaths. That’s quite a difference.

    Insights, anyone?

    Reply:
    All of Canada is used to winter. The difference of an additional 5C colder when you are used to dealing with the temp dipping below freezing regularly is irritating but not life threatening.

    However much of the cold weather and snow this winter in the USA was in areas that rarely see snow and rarely see freezing weather for more than overnight. A couple of weeks of temperatures below freezing in the south can mean frozen pipes and the house temperature dipping well below the comfortable. People do not have the cold weather clothing or cold tolerance either. I am in mid North Carolina, usually I never run the heat in the winter, I just open the windows in the late afternoon. I can’t do that when the temp has barely made it above 32F/0C for a couple of weeks.

  44. Who was that blighter who complained he couldnt ice-skate in Holland anymore? There has been silence from him. I wonder if he is busy ice-skating.

  45. The UK MET OFFICE just realeased the December 2009 UK temperature data
    as follows and I quote them in part only:

    “The month was mostly changeable, the first 10 days being mild but it then turned colder with snowfalls after mid-month. Overall, it was a very cold month with mean temperatures 1.5 to 2.0 °C below the 1971-2000 normal over England and Wales, 2.0 to 2.5 °C below over Northern Ireland and 2.5 to 3.5 °C below over Scotland. Provisionally, it was the coldest December over the UK since 1995.”

  46. polistra (07:53:58) :

    Thanks for the compilation of rates. However, it would probably be more relevant to calculate death rates based on the population > 65 yrs (or some other criterion for the elderly), since they seem to be most at risk. Also, one should be calculating the average of death rates for each year. Also, the data for each country are for different periods. A longer/older period means that death rates could be higher because people used to be less affluent and had fewer technological options than they are today.

    Chip Knappenberger (10:04:07) :

    Thanks for dropping by. I’ll read your paper more carefully, but the question remains: why do more people die in winter than at other times? What is it that distinguishes winter from other seasons? Offhand, one would say shorter days, less sunshine, lower radiation intensity, less Vitamin D, colder temperature. All these depend on each other either directly or indirectly. Shorter days and less sunshine lead to cooler temperatures which means people spend less time outdoors, and when they do they are more heavily bundled up, all of which leads to less Vitamin D etc. All these possibilities ought to be explored, but may not be separable. There are also good physiological reasons why one might expect higher mortality from cardiovascular and respiratory disease in wintertime. See, e.g., http://ijch.fi/issues/614/614_keatinge.pdf. Clearly, mnuch more work needs to be done to elucidate the precise mechanism(s) for the increased mortality in winter months.

    Tom in Co. (13:02:20) :

    Interesting idea regarding why Canada’s crude “death rates”(based on population) are so much lower. Other reasons could be: the Canadian data are for 2006, while the US’s is for 2008. Then there is is the acclimation factor, which is why the temperatures at which mortality hits a minimum (for both winter and summer), varies from place to place. I think in general Canadians are better prepared for the cold than their southern neighbors. Conversely , I would not be surprised if they don’t fare worse under an excessive heat situation than people in the US.

    Healy (2003) speculating on why southern European countries have higher excess winter mortality rates compared to Scandinavia, suggest that the latter necessarily have better housing with better insulation. Perhaps, something similar explains he difference between Canada and the US. See: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1732295/pdf/v057p00784.pdf.

  47. Ric Werme (06:08:26) : “Speculation: The winter storm track is consistently south of Canada, so Canadians expect it to be cold and prepare for it.”

    Many have commented on this. It probably has little to do with better insulated houses .. perhaps slightly. Might be lots of sunshine in winter–generally. But it is simple I think. Be prepared or die.

    1) We have shelters in all major cities. (There are virtually NO homeless in small towns. Move or die.) Generally, no one is turned away. Yes, people sleep outside on hot-air vents … and a few die in cold weather.

    2) The climate simply makes it difficult to survive unless you are prepared, whether you are rich or poor or homeless or housed. Even if you need more cardboard for your crude shelter. ☺

    In generally warmer climes, poor folks are not prepared and vulnerable. It gets cold and they get whacked hard. It was -35°C last night. There are homeless in our community. None died. There are one million people in Calgary and hundreds of homeless. No one died last night. If it went to -35°C in (say) Chicago, how many would die?

    There are almost certainly other factors, such as social services and health care for all including poor elderly. But I think it is “Be prepared or die.” And it is ingrained in our society.

  48. A correlation between two variables does not imply causation, as any climate sceptic should know. For example, an increase in death rates during winter may be caused by a reduction in sunlight and reduced seratonin levels. Reduced seratonin results in reduced feelings of well being.

  49. Thanks to all for their replies to my question. I’ve come to conlcude that for the most part, it probably is a matter of preparation/expectation.

    But strictly in terms of the countries examined in the chart, Sweden tells the story. Less populated than Canada, but more cold deaths percentage-wise. And that’s probably because Sweden isn’t as cold as one might expect it to be, given it’s location.

    So, Canada gets the gold medal on this one. They deal with the cold better than the rest of us!

  50. I see they’re still waffling out their, “the weather is not climate” snip. How about:

    Street crime is not the game Grand Theft Auto; the former happens in the real world to real people, whilst the latter happens in a computer.

    The weather is not ‘climate'; the former happens…

    [lets try to keep the site clean ok? – MikeLorrey]

  51. David Hall (10:42:21) :
    Watts going on ?
    When there is an exceptional waether event in the UK (heavy prolonged rainfall with floods, or a cold snap), there is almost always an accepted reason for why it happens, which is a change in the position of the jet stream – coming lower over the UK rather than just over the top of Scotland.

    But now? Exceptional cold over Europe (including the UK), Russia, China, most of the USA ?? Has anybody a sensible reason for the whole Northern hemisphere suddenly suffering great cold?

    …The weather we are now experiencing is caused by the Arctic Oscillation going into a negative high-pressure phase which forces cold air and arctic-like conditions up to 1,000 miles further south than normal.

    See http://nsidc.org/arcticmet/patterns/arctic_oscillation.html

  52. The only thing staying warm these days are the temp stations placed close to the heat exchangers and behind jet exhaust at the airports…

  53. Indur,

    Definitely, the seasonal cycle in mortality and its causes is a complex issue.

    In major cities across the U.S., the amplitude and timing of the seasonal mortality cycle is very similar. In Phoenix, for example, where you could argue that more people spend more time outside during the winter than the summer, the cycle is the same as Minneapolis, where people get very bundled up and stay inside more in the winter. In Miami, the seasonal cycle is also similar to Minneapolis, even though the winter temperatures in Miami aren’t that much different than the summer temperatures in Minneapolis. Given the wide variety of climates across the U.S., and the similarity of the mortality cycle, it is *very* hard to identify a climatic cause.

    I think influenza plays a huge role—but its link to climate is also difficult to unravel. How deadly the flu is from year to year may depend more on the type of influenza than the climate variability from year to year.

    There is still a lot of work to be done here.

    -Chip

  54. David Hall (10:42:21) :

    Watts going on ?

    has it to do with the quiet Sun? No doubt the IPPC will just laugh that out of court…..

    There is a direct connection between the jet stream position and solar activity. With a quiet sun, the jet stream position is more equatorward and opposite. That has to do with the amount of UV light (10% higher with an active sun), which is absorbed mainly by ozone in the stratosphere, warming the equatorial stratosphere with 1 K, which increases the poleward flow of the stratosphere.

    At low solar activity, this results in a lot more rain and bad weather in Southern Europe, precipitation in the Mississippi basin, and may be at the base of the AO change.

    See: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/04/990412075538.htm
    but forget their take on global warming…
    and a direct connection with the Arctic Oscillation:

    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2005/2005GL024393.shtml

    and more…

    http://www.nwra.com/resumes/dunkerton/pubs/jastp.xx.xx.xx.pdf

  55. There was a large investigation in Europe by Keatinge e.a. which shows that the minimum mortality range of about 3 K is lower in Northern Europe than in warmer parts. Above this band, mortality increases, below that band, mortality increases much more. In general there are 10 times more cold related deaths than heat related. See:

    http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/321/7262/670

    Why the difference in minimum moratlity range is not fully understood. Maybe it is just direct adaptation, or some genetic predisposition/adaptation of Nordic people to colder climates. Something similar can be seen in UV/skin cancer resistance between descendants of the pale UK migrants to Australia and the aboriginals…

  56. Another factor with Canada might be that the weak already died waiting to get in to see a doctor. But that wouldn’t explain the UK and Sweden.

    We notice that the elderly tend to die in the winter, this in the upper midwest as far north as the Canadian capital. They have heat. They have food. They might not have as many visitors, as people don’t get outside as much, and if you are snowed in, you can’t visit, either. They certianly don’t have as much sun. That can certainly lead to depression. Add in the dry air effect on repiratory ailments and lack of vitamin D? Would that do it? Do Canadians habitually eat more fish? (But then why the high number for Japan?)

  57. Steve Schaper (11:35:44) :Another factor with Canada might be that the weak already died waiting to get in to see a doctor.

    That makes no sense whatsoever. Old folks are not dying because they can’t see a doctor. (Maybe there have been too many false accounts of our medical system in the news recently. Maybe it is not the best but it is good.)

    Any Canadian can see a doctor within one or two hours (or a few hours at most) unless they live in a remote place … their choice. I might have to wait to see my own GP until tomorrow if I insist on seeing him specifically, but if I needed to see a doctor I could see one in a couple of hours. On New Years Eve 2008, I had a medical event … turned out fine. ☺ I walked into the emerg in our small town hospital and saw a doctor within one minute. I was taken by ambulance to emergency in the city and saw a doctor there within 30 minutes. Tests started within a couple of minutes of arriving.

    Waiting lists for non critical care (hip replacements) can be too long … a few months in some cases. My buddy had to wait about five months for his new hip. And people die waiting for transplants like in any country…not a function of the medical system .. lack of donors.

    Travel (or getting out in winter) indeed may be a small factor, but restricted travel here is most uncommon. Closed roads get full media coverage when it happens, but is not a significant factor in this discussion. From what I’ve seen on the news this past two weeks it would seem that a lot more roads were closed in the UK and USA than we see here.

    Clive
    Alberta Canada

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