Policy Documents

Cold is Deadlier than Heat, Despite Summertime Media Frenzy

James M. Taylor –
July 29, 2010

“Global warming” is rapidly increasing Northern Hemisphere temperatures, as it does every summer, but alarmists in the media are doing their best to make it seem like summer heat waves never occurred before. They are also misleading people into believing hot temperatures kill more people than cold temperatures.

An article in the Tuesday, July 27 Washington Post claims “High temperatures claim more lives in the United States than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and lightning combined – about 700 a year, according to official estimates.”

Perhaps, but what about high temperatures in comparison to low temperatures?

BBC News and Department of the Interior analyst Indur Goklany have published two separate papers this year documenting how cold weather kills far more people than hot weather.

Federal mortality statistics show 800 more people die every day in December, January, and February than occurs on an average day during the rest of the year. The winter months kill 72,000 more U.S. citizens than the spring-summer-autumn average.

The three months with the lowest mortality are the hot-weather summer months of June, July, and August.

Heart attacks and strokes are major culprits. As temperatures cool, blood vessels contract to preserve heat and blood composition changes. As a result, BBC News notes, the heart has to work harder to pump blood and blood is more likely to clot.

Additionally, cold weather makes the human respiratory more susceptible to viruses. Compounding matters, influenza becomes more resistant to the human immune system when temperatures fall.

A July 28 article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution references the July 27 Washington Post article and takes the claims a step further.

“We’d better get used to miserable, scorching summers. We can stop using the term ‘heat wave’ to describe what will become a routine pattern of high temperatures, overtaxed electricity grids and epidemics of heat strokes. According to NASA, all but one of the ten hottest years on record were since 1999,” writes Cynthia Tucker.

According to National Weather Service data, however, record high temperatures were prevalent the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s than they are today. The warming that has occurred (much of it overstated by placing temperature stations on asphalt, next to buildings, etc.) has primarily been during the winter and at night. High temperatures are not getting hotter, but rather the much more deadly extreme low temperatures are becoming more moderate.