The Deadliest U.S. Natural Hazard: Extreme Cold

There’s a new essay from Indur Goklany in response to a recent Reuters news article.

Yesterday Reuters reported on a study which claimed that heat is the deadliest form of natural hazard for the United States. However, this result is based on questionable data.  The study used results for mortality from extreme heat and cold that can be traced to the National Climatic Data Center. But these data are substantially different from mortality data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) based on the Compressed Mortality File for the United States. The latter uses death certificate records, which provide the cause of each recorded death (based on medical opinion). It is reasonable to believe that regarding the cause of death, particularly for extreme cold and heat, medical opinion as captured in death certificate records is more reliable than determinations made by the meteorologists in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s NCDC (even if they have Ph.Ds.).

The essay draws on data from the CDC database of mortality in the USA. See this table:

Combining data from the CDC database for extreme cold and extreme heat, and various arms of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for floods, lightning, hurricanes, and tornadoes, Goklany has shown that extreme cold, rather than heat, is the deadliest form of extreme weather event. In fact, from 1979-2002, extreme cold was responsible for 53 percent of deaths due to all these categories of extreme weather, while extreme heat contributes slightly more than half that (28%).  For more, see The Deadliest U.S. Natural Hazard: Extreme Cold.

Of course we all know that the human race has historically done better during warm periods. While we’ve seen a sloght warming in the last century, we’ve also seen a worldwide improvement in the human condition.

Warm – what’s not to like?

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Graeme Rodaughan

Talk about someone (NCDC) having a professional opinion outside their area of expertise, and based on dodgy data…
What next – will Astrophysicists, Politicians, and Paleontologists begin pontificating about future weather events?
Whoops – that’s already happening.
hmmm… Doctors are legally responsible for what they write on a death certificate… certainly makes a difference to what will be recorded.

barking toad

Nothing to see here.
Facts that don’t support the new religion are ignored by the cult members. And the MSM.
Opps, I repeated myself.

Neil Crafter

I’m glad that the earlier misinformation has been rectified that cold is truly a greater killer, but its still only a very small fraction of the people that die each year. I guess its just plain dangerous to be alive!

Graeme Rodaughan

AGW poster child – Hurricanes kill on average 19 people per year, whereas Cold kills 680.
Begs the question of what the priorities are.

Leon Brozyna

Thank you for the research done to counter that absurd Reuters story. I’ve read of how death rates from heat have declined during the previous century. This is due partly to a better educated populace, better acclimation to the heat, and of course with the improved living standard, air conditioning in places like the southern US where heat can become quite oppressive. If you’ve no A/C, just take off some clothes and slow down. In a cold winter climate, if the cold doesn’t get to you the snow shoveling just might.
Take a simple quiz. Would you rather be a homeless person living in Chicago during a winter cold snap, or living in Atlanta during a summer heat wave (no shelters available for either scenario)?


Put the hurricane deaths with the cold. When there is a greater difference between the equator and the poles, there are more hurricanes. Less temperature difference, less hurricanes. Floods ?? who knows?


But a hurricane is so much more spectacular to watch on television than it would be to have a two-hour long report of watching a thermometer’s indicated temperature drop in real time.
Hurricane reports attract eyeballs which sell advertising and that is the bottom line of the “news” business. It is really the advertising business. They don’t lose money if they broadcast inaccurate hysteria, but they stand to make a lot of money if they can create hysteria that draws people’s attention. And if they were wrong, they can state that fact at 3am on a Tuesday morning and never bring the subject up again.
It’s all about the eyeballs. It is in the interests of the news outlets to enter into some informal, unspoken collusion to create “issues” which attract attention. It works to the benefit of politicians, too, who can then have an opportunity to be seen “doing something” about it. Whether it is real or not is beside the point. Create a crisis, drum up the concern, repeat the most dire predictions you can find, and have politicans jump in to “save” everyone. Everybody on the gravy train wins.
Sorry if I seem so cynical in my old age.

Tim L

And— what is the cost for XC ? snow plowing, sand,salt, power lines down from ice, frozen pipes, frozen goods food/ paint/ HBA , cars/ trucks crashed , the deaths reported are from cold but what about car related death from snow/ice induced car crash deaths? house fires from heating systems/ more death from fire/suffocation?
Cold is a very bad thing in fact the old news paper articles were much more scary sounding when they announced an ice age!
breath in then out…. repeat!


Slightly off post, the UK’s Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn has picked up today on the story about the New York Times report from 1938. Even refers to a website by a ex TV meteorologist (is that you Anthony?) who takes “global warming” with a large pinch of Sea Salt !!
That’s the first time I’ve seen such a trenchant piece by someone in our MSM. Mind you I love reading his columns cos he likes to debunk the stupidity of our ruling classes, the police and local officials who act like the Gestapo.
I’ve posted a comment and if it gets through the moderators net, have identified this site so more people in the UK may get to read some common sense on the debate. Also anyone seen the site? The author is an environmental analyst who is trying to blow the whistle on what is happening in his “industry”. Our friend Al Gore again……no surprise there.

Yup, that’s me, and here is the article: – Anthony


Just a small caveat here – a death certificate will give what the doctor believes to be the immediate cause of death. It’s possible that a heart attack, for instance, might be brought on by heat stress or dehydration and would just give “heart failure” as cause of death. You have to be very careful evaluating data that were collected for other purposes (as the good doctor Mann should be aware).


We should set off some nukes underwater on the siberian arctic shelf and melt the permafrost there in order to release all the methane and really get this party started and warm things up….
If warm is good, then lets radically go for it…


Those figures don’t include influenza, that kills about 40,000 US citizens a year and costs the US economy about $90 billion
And when does flu predominantly occur?
Here’s a graph that shows UK influenza rates by year.
The relationship between global temperature and flu is quite good. (hot years = low flu). See the dramatic drop in flu for 1998/99 and the rebound for 1999/2000 and 2000/2001. Note the plateau for years 2001/2002 to the present. This year is seeing flu ramp up very early due to our cold start to winter. I suppose if I was Al Gore I could prove that low flu levels cause global warming 😉 Certainly the relationship is much closer than CO2!

Alan the Brit

Deja vu, I have a sneaky feeling that our Chinese cousins would agree wholeheartedly about that. When I had the honour of being in HK in late Jan 08 all the news stations were covering the worst winter in 50 years, which mushroomed into the worst winter in 100 years, I think I had already mentioned this & the fact that little coverage was made in the UK save for the usual BBC tokenism. (I say chaps, don’t mention the cold too much & perhaps people won’t notice, eh?)
Tens of thousands were stranded in airports, railway stations, & bus stations, for days on end with little warmth, food, or water, all wanting to get home for the Chinese NY. The army was on full alert round the clock trying to clear enough snow in blizzard conditions to assist, a bit like digging a hole in saturated sand, but couldn’t cope with the ever increasing amounts of snow & ice building up, buildings collapsed under the weight of snow, many hundreds (no official toll has been made available to my knowledge but I am willing to hear otherwise) died from the cold in remote areas, simply because the army & aid workers couldn’t get there because of, well the snow actually! None of this really got to the UK because I asked & whilst many new of the bad weather they were not aware of the scale of it simply due to it being dismissed in a few lines of news, yet when the tragic earthquake hit a few weeks later, it was all over the BBC et al big time for weeks. So if cold can devastate in China, it can devastate any where.
It will be interesting to see if fashions change over the coming years, with less soft flimsey cotton garments with which we all have become so fond being warn in the west/northern hemisphere, in favour of that old fashioned stuff called wool, which is infinitely warmer in my eyes when cold (sorry that should have read “less warm”) snaps occur!
It would be interesting to see if anyone does a study to look at the last 40 years & the next, as society has become more “affluent” in the broadest sense, homes have become warmer with more heating facilities, less clothing is then warn as people swan around in tee shirts insted of jumpers with 20-22°C ambient temps in their homes, & the relationship with the Sun & its coming & going cycles. Is there a pattern in peoples behaviour down here with what goes on up there precevied or real?

Allan M R MacRae

Winter Power Outages Cost Lives
Last week an ice storm in New England caused extended electric power outages for ~800,000 people.
Below are stats from the great Eastern Canada Ice Storm of 1998, which resulted in 24 deaths.
Dabbling in electric power systems by foolish politicians and enviro-nuts can have significant costs – both in material damage and lives lost.
Wind power can seriously destabilize the grid, and result in total shutdown.
I suggest we use the lessons learned from these ice storms to prevent such self-inflicted power-outage disasters.
Regards, Allan
Ice Storm Causes 24 Deaths; $1 Billion In Damages
Publication: Billboard
Date: Saturday, January 31 1998
The ice storm that slammed Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada for the past two weeks, causing at least $1 billion Canadian in damages and resulting in 24 deaths, is being called the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history.


What’s going on with the Arctic ice graph??? Two dips??? What is happening??

What the stories tells us (both versions) is that weather events are insignificant when it comes to death causes in a modern society. Begs the question on policy priorities: should we try to mitigate a possible but no very likely prospect of more extreme weather events due to AGW, or should the priority be to continue to raise living standards in the third world, so that they also can enjoy the same indifference to extreme weather as we enjoy. If you think that all men are created equal, the answer is given.

Ron de Haan

Neil Crafter (22:14:49) :
“I’m glad that the earlier misinformation has been rectified that cold is truly a greater killer, but its still only a very small fraction of the people that die each year. I guess its just plain dangerous to be alive!”
This is the case in a stable society with sufficient food production, distribution and high housing standards and heating.
The moment people become exposed to the weather (wind, cold and a bad food situation it’s a different story. That is why Stalin put his Goelach’s in Siberia.
That is why Napoleon’s and Von Paulus Armies were destroyed by the Russians.
Harsh winters are a natural defense against invaders.
Our modern society is extremely vulnerable for extreme winter conditions.
And if the world should experience a new Maunder Minimum event without preparation, the major problem will be how to maintain our food supplies.

Steve Berry

The study referenced in the Reuters article (see link below) is based on SHELDUS ‘Hazard event’ data.
SHELDUS is a county-level hazard data set for the U.S. for 18 different natural hazard events types such thunderstorms, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and tornados, which cause damage over $50K.
It’s not clear when hot or cold weather stops being routine and becomes an event. However, it’s clear that most deaths due to both heat and cold would be missed by this dataset.
BTW, death sertificates won’t be a reliable source either.
Studies have been done using totally mortality against actual temperature. They show cold weather causes far more deaths than cold weather in places like Europe and N America.


You seriously didn’t expect the NCDC to come up with a report that points to anything other than warming, did you.
I have been extremely disappointed with NCDC’s actions over the past year. I expected better from them. But it appears they are just like all the rest.

Anthony, this fits in perfectly with the weather-related causes of death in Europe.
As I’ve asked many AGW believers before: “Are your crops more likely to die/fail from a 0.5-2.0°C increase (natural or AGW) in temperature or a blanket of snow and ice?” Not Surprisingly, all they can manage is “But… but… but…” in answer to the question.

Keith W

The cause of death data covers the recent warming period. Is the data broken out into decade timelines?

Tom in warm and apparently deadly Florida

When I first heard this reported locally on the news (via radio), my impression was that the deaths from heat included everything supposedly caused by increased heat including hurricanes, thunderstorms and the like.
Having moved from New England to the “deadliest” part of the US, I will say that I would rather take my chances here while being warm most of the year rather than spending half the year in the cold waiting for the summer.


It’s pretty obvious. People retire, go to Florida and then die. Must be the heat can’t be anything else…. G


Another example of trying to redefine common sense — what’s more stressful, zero F or 97F? (which are the average extremes here) The answer is obvious even to a child.

Pamela Gray

Add lost productivity (I’m sitting home instead of teaching students), increased manufacturing costs, huge increases in Dept of Transportation costs, electrical company repair costs, increased overhead costs compared to income with every business that stays open, lost income in nearly every sector from gas stations to food stores. The poor condition of our infrastructure adds to the cost of cold by its fragile nature under cold conditions. The cost of cold overwhelms anything else.

Steven Hill

Can someone explain how the ice has stalled? I am like Steven Berry, I don’t understand this.

barbee butts

Thanks Anthony (again)
I had actually read that story. I knew it was all lies from the get-go.
How did I know? It was printed in ink.

Are all fatal cold weather related road traffic accidents logged as ‘cold related deaths’? Probably not.
I like Bjorn Lombergs approach (Even though he still talks about ‘combatting global warming’ in his ‘cool it’ presentation).
Some warming would be very welcome right about now on a normally temperate part of Vancouver Island. High temperature Minus five Celsius, currently snowing.

Pamela Gray

Notice the meeting of moisture-heavy warm tropical fronts colliding with extremely cold (and therefore dryer) arctic fronts that have dropped into and are stalling over much of the Northern Hemisphere. Just like in Hurricane season. Colder temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere set us up for more extreme events when they collide with the relatively stable warmer temperatures coming from the Equator and Southern Hemisphere. It seems that the following is a theory with some strength: Cold temperatures lead to stronger events than warm temperatures do in the Northern Hemisphere.

J. Peden

Once again, a statement from an AGW acolyte turns out to be false. Their perfect record in this regard is beginning to seem like some kind of very extreme event itself, and perhaps needs to be studied.
As kids, we used to say, “Follow them, see what they eat.” Well, from the TAR itself, concerning Australia and New Zealand:
“12.8.1…. However, it must be said that potential gains [benefits of Global Warming] have not been well documented, in part because of lack of stakeholder concern in such cases and consequent lack of special funding.”
The TAR had its own search engine, which turned up no results concerning the “benefits of GW ” in its html version. I found the above TAR note via Google.

Pamela Gray

Stated in the null hypothesis mode: Greater temperature differences between the margin of cold and warm fronts in the Northern Hemisphere over North America does not result in increased extreme weather events. Any meteorological student out there looking for a dissertation?


Steven Hill (07:03:43) : “Can someone explain how the ice has stalled? I am like Steven Berry, I don’t understand this.”
Nope. NOBODY can explain it. There are LOTS of things about climate, ice caps, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions weather, etc. that are NOT currently understood by science. That’s why taking accurate data is SO important. Hypothethes that are testable are good. Drawing premature conclusions and stating absolutes is unwarranted.

Freezing Finn

“Those figures don’t include influenza, that kills”… etc.
I agree – warmer means good times, major cooling means bad times, end of civilizations and revolutions among other things and so forth – but – is inluenza the THE killer or is it “just a contributing factor”?

Alec, a.k.a Daffy Duck

to: Steven Hill (07:03:43) :
Can someone explain how the ice has stalled? I am like Steven Berry, I don’t understand this.
Just a lame-man here…but Nome, AK temps have been way above average:
12/12 + 11
12/13 +15
12/14 +17
12/15 +8
12/16 +10
12/17 +17
12/18 +24
If you look back at the temps in Nov. you csn see why the ie had been doing well North of the Berhing Straights in nov:

Mike Kelley

If the envirocrits have their way and electricity becomes a luxury for people without trust funds, lots of people will die facing heat waves without air conditioning. The death toll in France a few years was so high because air conditioning was not available to many old people there.

Pamela Gray

Actually, Steven and Phil the Arctic stall can be studied and fairly reasonable explanations given. The Arctic is actually a combination of different seas each with its own ocean current source. If one studies the different areas and the growth/melt of ice, you can gain quite a bit of understanding about how ice behaves up there. Go to , scroll down to the simple map, and click on the different colored areas surrounding the pole. You will see different graphs for ice melt and growth. Then study Arctic land temperatures at , understanding that these temperature recordings will likely include artifacts of the measuring device. You can then study jet stream and wind patterns at to gain an understanding of how wind can affect ice movement, melt, and growth. As soon as I can, I will get a web site to you of small ocean currents up there to add to your study. By combining these areas of information, you will see that the stall is not throughout the Arctic but in very limited areas and is reasonably explained.

Pamela Gray
J. Peden

Death Certificates don’t say “heat wave” or “cold snap” on them, so I assume the CDC has some way to seperate out body temp. related deaths during “non-extreme” ambient temp. from those during “extreme” ambient temps., giving an excess related to “extremes” – as reported in the Table’s figures?
I guess what bothers me is that thanks to the AGW fiasco I now know all too painfully that I have to worry about such details when I’m already paying for them to be taken care of by “government experts”. I don’t even worry as much about my car repairs being done correctly. My mechanics have more credibility than Gov’t scientists.

Ed Larson

Well, good ole Montana is basking in zero to 20 below. I see the cardboard signs are gone from the interstate ramps, so it looks like the colder it gets the less people are ‘stranded’, ‘will work for food’ or ‘anything will help’. We need to get to -35 for 4 days so that we can kill off the bark beetle that is ravaging our forest (CO2 sinks) and then come up from there. I see New Orleans and Vegas got to shovel a couple inches of global warming.


“What’s going on with the Arctic ice graph??? Two dips??? What is happening??”
If you go to cryosphere today and have a look at a comparison between, say, December 10 and today, you can see pretty much what is happening. The areas of less consolidated ice, say ice at 60% or less concentration seem to have been pushed around by storms. While the amount of 80-100% concentration is still growing, it appears that storms have compacted a lot of the less consolidated ice between Greenland and Europe.
Also, most of the broad areas that freeze have already done so. So if, for example, Hudson’s Bay freezes up a few days early, you will see the anomaly go more positive but when you get to the day where it normally is frozen, that anomaly goes away.
If you do the default comparison with 1980, you will see that there is still plenty of “catching up” to do on the Atlantic side of the Arctic ocean.
You will notice that there is currently little ice below 80-100% concentration on the Atlantic side right now. That is probably more due to winds than temperature.


Freezing Finn (07:59:09) asked:-
“I agree – warmer means good times, major cooling means bad times, end of civilizations and revolutions among other things and so forth – but – is inluenza the THE killer or is it “just a contributing factor”?”
A good point. Flu certainly can kill, even healthy adults, but seasonal flu predominantly sees off the very old and the very young so one could class that as ‘natural’. It can be the trigger for pneumonia, bronchitis, stroke, etc so the actual cause of death might not even be listed as influenza.
Ultimately we all die because our heart stops beating, but do we all die of heart attacks? Death is apportioned to one cause or another and influenza claims a big share.
Cold, flu. norovirus and many other nasties are all more prevalent in the winter. I’d rather have a warm one.


Pamela :
Yes, but then take a look at the overall Arctic ice graph trendline, right at the top of the page,,, no stall is visible, it appears that there is no standard plot for Arctic ice

In 8th and 9th centaury AD during the North Europe’s unprecedented cooling, my ancestors spent nearly 100 years fighting local tribes on their way to warm Mediterranean. Subsequent medieval hot period (12th to 14th centaury AD) did not persuade them to go back.

Pamela Gray

Also look here for a large research project to more clearly understand Arctic currents.

John Galt

If you know anything about history, the Medieval Warm Period was a prosperous, peaceful time when compared to the Little Ice Age. The Little Ice Age led to plagues, crop failures, massive starvation and many wars. It was a time of great social and political upheaval.
I’ll take warm over cold any day.

Richard deSousa

Steven Hill: The reason for the decrease in ice growth in the Arctic is because the Hansenites are using the corrupt October data… 😉


Most of the remaining arctic sea ice gain to be seen is in the Bering sea and the sea of Okhotsk. My suspicion is that the water in these seas hasn’t cooled yet to the level required to support sea ice, but based on the air temperatures in those areas I would expect it to start developing soon. Once ice formation starts to take off in the Bering sea and sea of Okhotsk, expect another rapid rise in sea ice extent…

Ed Larson

Gore says the ice cap will be gone in five years. What odds can we get on that in Vegas????

G Alston

Slightly OT but another meteorologist (from CNN!) is now jumping ship.