- In one AZ county, at least 130 homeless people died a heat-associated death last year.
- The EPA estimates 1,300 Americans die a heat-related death each year.
- Urban areas are especially likely to get extremely hot.
New research from Maricopa County, Arizona — the county where Phoenix is located — says that last year at least 130 people who died from heat-associated causes were homeless. That’s about 42 percent of all heat-associated deaths in the county.
“If 130 homeless people were dying in any other way it would be considered a mass casualty event,” Kristie L. Ebi, a professor of global health at the University of Washington, told the Associated Press.
Homeless people are about 200 times more likely to die from heat-associated causes than sheltered people, according to Climate Scientist David Hondula. Hondula heads Phoenix’s new office for heat mitigation.
Heat kills more people each year than any other form of weather. Historical data from the National Weather Service says that in a 30-year period in the U.S., 130 people died as a result of heat on average each year.
That’s the same number as the number of homeless people alone that died from heat-associated causes in a single Phoenix county last year. The EPA estimates as many as 1,300 now die each year from issues related to extreme heat in the U.S., suggesting numbers of heat deaths are increasing.
Heat deaths can be related to a number of heat-induced issues: dehydration, heat stroke, cardiovascular system issues and more. Beyond a simple lack of shelter, many homeless people have pre-existing chronic health conditions, substance use disorders or mental health issues, which may put them at further risk of heat-related illness or death.
Heat can be especially brutal in major cities, where homelessness rates are elevated. Cities often create what is known as an “urban heat island.” Urban heat islands happen when a city’s roads, buildings and other structures absorb heat from the sun and radiate it into the surrounding air. Some highly-developed cities can experience temperatures that are between 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit higher than outlying areas, especially at night.
Extreme heat will likely be seen across much of the world this summer. The International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University’s most recent forecast shows that most land areas have a high probability of seeing above-average temperatures through September. Extreme heat is a concern in other countries as well. The AP reports that about a quarter of the world’s population is affected by exposure to extreme heat.
Last summer, the Pacific Northwest experienced a deadly heat wave that researchers say wouldn’t even have been possible if it weren’t for human-caused climate change. The heat wave caused a surge of excess deaths in Oregon and Washington and killed several people who were presumed to be homeless. This weekend and early next week, the area is forecast to receive another wave of extreme heat — possibly record-breaking in some areas.
(FORECAST: See What To Expect In Seattle, WA)
As heat waves crop up across the country, many cities will open up public cooling centers where people can go to find respite from the extreme temperatures. Drinking plenty of water and taking breaks in the shade are other small steps that can reduce the likelihood of heat-related illness. Experts warn not to rely on fans for preventing heat-related illness as they don’t actually cool your body temperature and may provide a false sense of safety.
The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.