Weather-caused fatality / injury statistics

Dan Robinson

Has anyone ever seen US statistics that break down fatalities and injuries by the weather phenomena that caused them? I am interested in ranking the most dangerous types of weather as it applies to the average American.

I have a suspicion that winter weather phenomena are the number one threat - a combination of loss of power/extreme cold and icy/snowy roads. That is, if one is to count the accidents caused by ice as a weather-related incident rather than an automobile / traffic-related one.

I'm interested in ranking the following four:

- winter storms - grouped by:
* car accidents caused by icy roads
* hypothermia/freezing due to power loss or strandings
- floods and flash floods
- car accidents caused by wet roads
- heat waves

We already know that the following five rank below the four factors above:

- lightning
- tornadoes
- hurricanes
- hail
- straight-line winds

I plan to contact a few insurance companies to see if they have this type of data, but was curious if someone had already compiled this.
I don't have any statistics, and I think it would be hard to find any that take into account the heat (its just not that exciting). My hunch is that heat is the number one weather related killer in the United States.

A prolonged heat wave in the northern states can kill thousands of people. But it seems difficult to measure because they were not directly killed by the heat. Its often an underlying ailment that has made them more prone to heat injuries. Also, many of the people were often close to dying naturally, so who is to say whether or not they would have died without the heat wave.

Another theory of mine is that extreme weather often saves more lives than it takes. I think you'd find that fewer people are dying during blizzards than when there aren't blizzards. Yes, there are traffic fatalies related to poor road conditions, but do they offset the fact that there may be 1/100th the amount of people on the road and there normally would be fatalitie in good weather?

I keep hearing that the midwest ice storm has killed 21 people. How did they come up with this? Certainly more than 21 people died in the midwest during this period. In fact, tens of thousands of peope died, sorry to say it. Is any traffic death during the storm attributed to the ice storm, because traffic deaths occur without ice storms as well?
Dan, Ozanne makes a good point and in such we see an example of where one cannot rely on the media for accurate information or news for the matter. I dont think tens of thousands have died, perhaps 500-2k people when this system is all said and done and related to the storm system. Now I agree Dan that winter weather is a major threat to ones saftey, but that is only the case if one does not prepare for such an event or does not heed warnings to stay off the road or be ready for power outages, ect. I dont know of any sources that I can provide you to help you in your search but heres an idea. If you cant find any sources then start a poll on ST, ask the people here their opinion and then go off of that.
Just to clarify...I meant tens of thousands will die just from natural causes. When you have 300 million people that's the way it is. The good thing is that tens of thousands plus a few hundred will be born.

What would be interesting is to ask the general public what the number one weather related killer is. Depending on recent news events you'd get your answer. Thankfully, most weather enthusiasts know that flooding is the number one killer (not taking heat into account).
I look at it this way. It's not the overall number of accidents, but the percentage of accidents per car on the road. In other words, the risk of an accident for any car on the road at a point in time. If you have 10,000 cars on a given stretch of roadway on a normal day and two of them are in a serious accident, you have a accident rate of .02 percent. During a period of icy roads, there may be 100 cars on that same road, but you could likely still have two serious accidents - a rate of 2%. Not to mention, from what I've seen, there are actually more accidents during icy conditions than there are during clear weather - and that is with less people on the road to start with.

The reason I can see winter weather possibly being a bigger threat to the average American than flash flooding (which traditionally holds the top slot) because more people are likely to encounter winter weather hazards than a flash flood during a given year. It is probably the one weather danger that nearly every American along and east of the Rockies (excluding the deep south) will personally encounter at least once a year. That's something that can't be said of floods, tornadoes, or hurricanes.

I'm aware of the catch-22 in trying to quantify heatwave-related deaths - but it is still a tangible factor that probably has more of an impact than floods or tornadoes, even if you filter out the deaths of the sick and elderly from the data. I don't think we'll ever arrive at an exact number, but we should be able to establish a general risk level to the average person.
You both make excellent points. I am more inclined to classify icy/snowy/wet road accidents as weather-related rather than traffic-related. These factors (ice, snow and rain) usually spontaneously cause accidents without any abnormal control inputs or 'errors' from the driver. It could be argued that the driver is responsible for traveling too fast for the conditions, but in many cases the slick road conditions can be surprise encounters. Furthermore, most flooding deaths are also automobile-related - and in many of these cases, the driver makes a conscious decision to enter the floodwaters (IE, no element of surprise). If a driver being killed after knowingly driving into deep water is classified as a flooding death, I think that it makes a strong case for an icy road death to be classified as a winter weather death. Good discussion and I'd be interested to hear more opinions.
I have heard of one study which suggested mortality rates decrease after a heat wave. This would essentially back up the idea the heat kills folks who were already knocking on heaven's door.
Well, you can unfortunately tack on 4 winter weather deaths here in NW MO due to auto accidents. Sadly, 2 of them occurred before we even measured as an all night trace of light freezing drizzle turned the morning roads Friday in an ice rink that "looked" dry.