A recent study in the United States has revealed major differences in hurricane mortality rates, especially in recent years and in socially vulnerable areas. The study, published in the journal Science Advances, highlights significant differences in mortality rates across hurricane seasons and regions.
The study, conducted by scientists from renowned institutions such as Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, the University of Colorado, Imperial College London, the University of California at Irvine and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, analyzed various factors contributing to excess mortality from cyclones.
Experts found that 83% of hurricane-related deaths have occurred in recent decades, and a staggering 94% occurred in vulnerable counties. This study sheds light on the different impacts of tropical cyclones and emphasizes that demographic, economic and social factors play a crucial role in shaping these differences. It also fills a knowledge gap by pointing to the disproportionately high number of deaths in counties with higher minority populations.
The results of the study reveal some disturbing statistics. For example, Orleans County (Los Angeles) had the highest number of excess deaths after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 at 719. Harris County (Texas) had 309 deaths after Hurricane Rita in the same year. Broward County, Florida, had 185 deaths after Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and Nassau County, New York, had 178 deaths after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
The highest number of excess deaths in a single year is considered to be 2005, when post-tropical cyclones accounted for 2,163 deaths, including 1,491 from Hurricane Katrina.
Dr. Robbie M. Parks, lead author of the study and associate professor of environmental health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, noted that one of the factors contributing to the spike in deaths is long-standing systemic problems. Dr. Parks noted that lack of access to adequate short-term transportation, unequal access to financial resources, education, employment opportunities, and timely warnings of approaching tropical cyclones are all the result of long-standing institutional neglect.
Implications of the study
This study emphasizes the importance of understanding short-term excess mortality following tropical cyclones as a key indicator for understanding the public health burden of climate disasters. This information is critical because deaths can be caused by a variety of causes including injuries, illnesses, cardiovascular problems, neuropsychiatric and respiratory diseases.
The researchers used extensive death registration data and statistical models to estimate the number of excess deaths following tropical cyclones over four decades. The results were compared with data from official sources and international disaster databases to provide a comprehensive picture of the impact of hurricanes on mortality.