US Heat Deaths in 2022 Already Higher than 30-Year Average

US Heat Deaths in 2022 Already Higher than 30-Year Average

This year’s extreme heat has already taken a devastating toll on the US. Heat is notoriously dangerous, causing more deaths each year than any other form of extreme weather for the last 30 years. And this summer is not over yet, but the extreme heat’s death toll is already higher than both the 10 and 30-year averages.

July’s heatwave across the US set more than 350 new daily high-temperature records, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In at least half of the past 16 days, more than 100 million Americans have been under heat alerts, and within the week, over 80% will experience temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

NBC: US Faces Dangerous Heat Wave, Record-Breaking Temperatures, August 5, 2022.

CBS: More than 120 million Americans face extreme heat, July 22, 2022.

It’s already hot, but an analysis of temperature trends by Climate Central found its only going to get hotter. By the end of the century, many cities will experience summer temperatures more like the ones now in places 437 miles south on average. For example, Washington DC summers may look a lot more like those in Austin, TX, and places like Boston could feel like Philadelphia, or Billings, MT like El Paso.

"This summer, with its oppressive and widespread heatwaves, is likely to be one of the coolest summers of the rest of our lives,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. "That’s pretty scary.”

Heatwaves are only one symptom of the larger climate crisis. Unless the world effectively slashes emissions, humanity is facing what UN Secretary-General António Guterres referred to as a "collective suicide.”

Guardian: Energy companies' record profits during global crisis 'immoral', says UN secretary general, August 3, 2022.

BBC: Deadly heatwaves '100 times more likely' due to climate change, May 18, 2022.

MSNBC: We Must Pay Attention To 'Urgent Crisis’ Of Extreme Heat Events, May 23, 2022.

The Economist: See what three degrees of global warming looks like, October 31, 2021.

Why This Matters

The US is largely unprepared for the extreme heat coming out of what many refer to as the new normal. According to NOAA, temperatures within the country could rise anywhere from 3 to 12 degrees before the end of the century. Many of the nation’s fastest growing cities are becoming unlivable, in part because of poor city planning. However, President Biden’s Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, created last year to prepare the US healthcare system for extreme heat, is broken. Moreover, a refusal to regulate the oil industry has made global warming and record heat even worse.

Extreme heat has particularly big consequences for those most marginalized, including disproportionately affecting Native American and Black communities, which had the highest rates of heat-related deaths in the US from 2004 to 2018. Also, people with certain pre-existing medical conditions and the elderly are at high risk for heat-related illness and death, along with those who work outdoors or are unhomed.

Grantham Imperial: Dr Friederike Otto speaks to BBC World News about the heatwaves, 18 July 2022, July 19, 2022.

TED: Fossil fuel companies know how to stop global warming. Why don't they? | Myles Allen, December 4, 2020.

The Lancet: Global launch event | 2021 Lancet Countdown on health and climate change, October 27, 2021.

Taking Action To Keep The US Cool

The federal government recently launched, a website that shows local communities, businesses, and governments how their community or region has gotten hotter over time. The day the site launched last Tuesday, more than 39 million people in the US were under extreme heat alert.

FOX 43: launches, providing resources for those facing excessive heat, August 4, 2022.

KOIN 6: Gov. Brown declares state of emergency in 25 counties due to heat, July 26, 2022.

PBS: Record heat wave in the U.S. raises public health concerns, June 18, 2022.

Heat protections are also occurring on the state and city level. A report on heat-associated deaths from Arizona’s Maricopa county (home to Phoenix, the nation’s hottest city) showed a death toll of 339, which is a 5% increase from the previous year and a whopping 70% increase from 2019. The county’s homeless population, which has more than tripled since 2016, accounts for about 40% of heat deaths.

NBC: Extreme Heat Raises Concerns about US Power Grids, June 18, 2022.

Last year, the City of Phoenix created an Office of Heat Response and Mitigation (OHRM) to "[lead] the efforts of the hottest large city in the United States to fight the growing hazard of urban heat.” Already, OHRM has arranged biweekly sessions for volunteers to hand out supplies, like cold water and cooling towels, to those who need them. Still, this is only a start. More will need to be done to keep Phoenix residents safe in the rapidly growing and warming city.

"It’s a long game -- we’re fighting for small wins that we hope will accumulate into larger wins,” David Hondula, a climate and health researcher at Arizona State University who leads the team, told the Guardian. We need to prepare for and recover from every summer, not occasional heatwaves.”

PBS: Phoenix tries to offset rising temperatures that pose health risks to the most vulnerable, July 7, 2022.

Fox 10 Phoenix: Excessive heat presents challenges for those working outdoors, June 9, 2022.

TED: End fossil fuels to protect human health | Carolyn Orr, March 1, 2022.

WW0: ​​Climate and Health Are Connected, January 26, 2021.