Heat-related deaths in Manhattan projected to rise – except reality shows them going down in the USA

Only one problem, an NIH study shows that thanks to air conditioning and other factors, including better education programs about heat waves, heat related deaths are actually going down in the USA.

From Davis et al, Changing Heat-Related Mortality in the United States published at National Institutes of Health:

In general, over the past 35 years, the U.S.populace has become systematically less affected by hot and humid weather condi-tions. All-causes mortality during heat stress events has declined despite increasingly stress-ful weather conditions in many urban and suburban areas. This relative “desensitization”of the U.S. metropolitan populace to weather-related heat stress can be attributed to a varietyof factors, including improved medical care, infiltration of air conditioning, better publicawareness programs relating the potential dangers of heat stress, and both human biophysi-cal and infrastructural adaptations.

And today, in the TIME article mentioning this study, they say:

Chicago in particular learned after the deadly 1995 heat wave—which is one reason why heat-related deaths in the city actually went down over the second half of the 20th century, even as temperatures increased.

From the The Earth Institute at Columbia University,

Killing season may push into spring and fall, says study

Residents of Manhattan will not just sweat harder from rising temperatures in the future, says a new study; many may die. Researchers say deaths linked to warming climate may rise some 20 percent by the 2020s, and, in some worst-case scenarios, 90 percent or more by the 2080s.

Higher winter temperatures may partially offset heat-related deaths by cutting cold-related mortality—but even so, annual net temperature-related deaths might go up a third. The study, published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, was done by a team at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and the Mailman School of Public Health.

Studies of other cities have already projected adverse health effects from rising temperatures, but this is one of the most comprehensive so far. Unlike many others, it combines data from all seasons, and applies multiple scenarios to a local area—in this case, the most densely populated county in the United States. “This serves as a reminder that heat events are one of the greatest hazards faced by urban populations around the globe,” said coauthor Radley Horton, a climate scientist at the Earth Institute’s Center for Climate Systems Research. Horton says that people need look no further for the potential dangers than the record 2010 heat wave that hit Russia, killing some 55,000 people, and the 2003 one that killed 70,000 in central and western Europe.

Daily records from Manhattan’s Central Park show that average monthly temperatures already increased by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit from 1901 to 2000—substantially more than the global and U.S. trends. Cities tend to concentrate heat; buildings and pavement soak it up during the day and give it off at night. Many records have been set in Manhattan recently; 2012 was its warmest year on record, and in each of the past three years, it has seen temperatures at or above 100 degrees F. Projections for the future vary, but all foresee steep future average increases : 3.3 to 4.2 degrees F more by the 2050s, and 4.3 to 7.1 degrees by the 2080s.

To make mortality estimates, the researchers took temperature projections from 16 global climate models, downscaled these to Manhattan, and put them against two different backdrops: one assuming rapid global population growth and few efforts to limit emissions; the other, assuming slower growth, and technological changes that would decrease emissions by 2040. As a baseline for estimating temperature-related deaths, they used the 1980s, when an estimated 370 Manhattanites died from overheating, and 340 died from cold.

No matter what scenario they used, the projections suggested increased mortality. In the 2020s for instance, numbers produced from the various scenarios worked out to a mean increase of about 20 percent in deaths due to heat, set against a mean decrease of about 12 percent in deaths due to cold. The net result: a 5 or 6 percent increase in overall temperature-related deaths. Due mainly to uncertainties in future greenhouse emissions, projections for the 2050s and 2080s diverge more—but in all scenarios mortality would rise steeply. The best-case scenario projects a net 15 percent increase in temperature-related deaths; the worst, a rise of 30-some percent. Assuming Manhattan’s current population of 1.6 million remains the same, the worst-case scenario translates to more than 1,000 annual deaths.

The study also found that the largest percentage increase in deaths would come not during the traditionally sweltering months of June through August, but rather in May and September—periods that are now generally pleasant, but which will probably increasingly become incorporated into the brutal dog days of summer.

Senior author Patrick Kinney, an environmental scientist at the Mailman School and Earth Institute faculty member, pointed out several uncertainties in the study. For instance, he said, things could be made better or worse by demographic trends, and how well New York adapts its infrastructure and policies to a warmer world. On one hand, future Manhattanites may be on average older and thus more vulnerable; on the other, New York is already a leader in efforts to mitigate warming, planting trees, making surfaces such as roofs more reflective, and opening air-conditioned centers where people can come to cool off. Kinney said there is already some evidence that even as city heat rose during the latter 20th century, heat-related deaths went down–probably due to the introduction of home air conditioning. “I think this points to the need for cities to look for ways to make themselves and their people more resilient to heat,” he said.

The lead author of the study is Tiantian Li, an epidemiologist now at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, who did the work while serving as a postdoctoral researcher at the Columbia Climate and Health Program at Mailman, which Kinney directs.


The paper, “Projections of Seasonal Patterns in Temperature-Related Deaths for Manhattan, New York,” is available from the authors or from Nature: Contact Neda Afsarmanesh n.afsarmanesh@us.nature.com 212-726-9231

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Pat Michaels
May 20, 2013 2:41 pm

Our 2003 paper (Davis et al.) that you quote from tells much about the sorry state of climate “science”. When it was awarded Climate Section “Paper of the Year” by the Association of American Geographers, I thought that very odd.
Think of this: a paper demonstrating the hypothesis that “people don’t want to die” is correct gets a big award. What a business we are in!

May 20, 2013 2:50 pm

Wow, all of those New Yorkers who move South must be dropping like flies…

Between 2000 and 2009, nearly 60 percent of the New York out-migrants moved to southern states—with Florida alone drawing nearly one-third of the total.


May 20, 2013 3:06 pm

My wife and I were born in New York and lived there for decades until we retired and moved to much warmer Florida, where we will probably reside until we die. Many of our neighbors also moved to Florida after living most of their lives in northern states. Sad to say, nearly all of them will die here in hot Florida. Clearly, it is the heat that is killing us, further “proof” that Global Warming is a serious threat to human life.

Gary Pearse
May 20, 2013 3:13 pm

Does Columbia University not acknowledge that heat stopped rising in 1997? Everyone else does even if reluctantly and equivocally (hidden heat: there would be no need for this dark matter- like phenomenon if it was out there as higher temps). I remember from university days that professors were always somewhat behind the curve. When I graduated with an MSc in economic geology, I discovered on the outside that developments in mineral exploration had advanced 10 or more years beyond what we were taught. Hey, they didn’t really get out much.

Janice Moore
May 20, 2013 3:24 pm

“Daily records from Manhattan’s Central Park show that average monthly temperatures already increased by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit from 1901 to 2000—substantially more than the global and U.S. trends.”
Perhaps, this is because an increasingly higher percentage of N.Y.C. residences and businesses are using air conditioning (heat exhaust). So what if the park is hotter? Everyone’s inside!
Let’s see if Mr. Infrastructure Doomberg conveniently contrives an electric power failure, scheduled for just after he leaves town around the end of June.
I tell you! You would have to pay me a LOT of money to live in N.Y.C.. Nice place to visit… .

Janice Moore
May 20, 2013 3:29 pm

Ira Glickstein, Ph. D. — LOL! I love it.

May 20, 2013 3:39 pm

Meanwhile….”deaths due to a warming climate”….appear to be regional….
this winter season in the UK….FREEZING DEATHS MAY TOP 30,000….
When the EPA succeeds in destroying big coal…all systems that rely on pumps, fans or electric controls will be off-line…as will the stupid solar cells and wind mill bird shredders…New England can then expect body counts to surpass Old England….there’s that hope and change thing in action….NO hope….and BAD change….

May 20, 2013 3:41 pm

People will not be able to afford air conditioning. Heat deaths will rise. Self-fulfilling prophecy.

May 20, 2013 4:23 pm

Growing up in Bergen county NJ, there was a general rule about how you adjusted the temperatures in summer and winter from those heard on the radio. TV weather was still in the chalk board stage then. You had two reported temperatures, Central Park and the Battery. From the Battery readings, you got northern NJ temps by adjusting up by 5 degrees F in summer and down 5 degrees in winter due to the ocean effect. Central Park, you adjusted up 5 degrees in summer and a bit less in winter. The dumb place was not even a uniform heat island. Of course, this was in the 1950s before we had CO2 in the air, so things might be different these days.

May 20, 2013 5:18 pm

Cheap and abundant energy will save lives and allow us to live in comfort. The biggest reason people will die from excessive heat or cold is because they cant afford their energy bill.

May 20, 2013 6:42 pm

May, might, could……….yawwwwn. Bed time.

May 20, 2013 8:52 pm

“Only one problem, an NIH study shows that thanks to air conditioning and other factors, including better education programs about heat waves, heat related deaths are actually going down in the USA.”
Yes, around 40 cities in the US use a heat warning system that relies on an air mass classification system to provide heat wave warnings. However, there are still heat wave related deaths and if temperatures go up you can project some pretty dramatic increases in heat waves even for modest increases in temperature. Hmm in due course I may have something to post using a pretty good regional GCM to drive the heat wave warning system.

May 20, 2013 10:54 pm

Mosher: “pretty good regional GCM” – that sounds like an oxymoron to me.

James Bull
May 20, 2013 11:25 pm

Maybe the paper should have started.”Once upon a time”
The only way there would be a problem is if the power goes out and with your EPA and our “green” gov in the UK trying to shut down coal fired generators they may get the results they talk of.
James Bull

Chris R.
May 21, 2013 2:44 pm

To Stevn Mosher:
I thought that GCMs still “lacked skill” at less than continental scale?

Brian H
May 27, 2013 3:09 pm

Now they’re predicting hockey stick graphs? Good luck with that. Not.

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