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Cold Deadlier Than Heat According to Study

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people in the United States are almost twice as likely to die from the cold than they are from the heat. This study apparently confirms similar studies done in other places in the world by different countries.

What is interesting to note in this study is that it was systematic and examined the cause of death for people in the US, related to weather phenomenon, from 2006 to 2010. This is only a four-year time span and it is only weather-related deaths just in the US. However, the sampling was of 10,649 weather-related deaths, so it is a large sample. The CDC has also done similar studies in the past, with similar results, so the results aren’t surprising.

Of the 10,649 weather-related deaths, the CDC found that about a third died from excessive heat. Almost two-thirds died from excessive cold. Floods, storms, and lightning accounted for a small portion of the deaths.

Unlike many other studies funded by government agencies, this study didn’t set out to prove any political agenda. For that matter, the study also broke down the deaths according to income, race, age, and other key factors. For instance, it was found that the weather-related deaths were 2 to 7 times higher in the counties that have the lowest income. Likewise, older people were more impacted than were teens and people in their 20s.

This isn’t at all a surprise, but it is confirmation of what most people probably believe or understand.

It is likely that many more people died of heat or cold than has been reported to the CDC, however, there is no reason to think that the statistics wouldn’t remain consistent if the additional information was made available, especially considering the data from previous studies that has remained fairly consistent.

It should be noted that I’m not trying to make any specific point here, except for one, and I’m not trying to prove anything specific, either. The US has all climate zones from artic to subtropics and deserts, and all of these climatic areas are populated. In fact, the coldest areas aren’t as heavily populated as the warmer ones.

That is the only point. With all the worry about global warming, few people have considered what might happen if it went the other direction. The fact is that in the past five years, after the end of this study, winter weather conditions in the US have gotten colder than they were previously.

During that time, more cold weather records have been broken than ever before. On one particular 24 hour period during that time frame, all 50 states registered freezing temperatures for the first time in recorded history. Northern Mexico also registered freezing temperatures that day. That same year, massive snowstorms and cold temperatures raged in Europe and Asia. Snow was recorded in equatorial regions. The second lowest temperature ever recorded on earth was registered in Antarctica, at -135.1 F. This all could be an aberration, although the past five years strongly hint that it isn’t.

It also isn’t very surprising from the aspect of physiology. Man is simply not designed for the cold. A human can suffer hypothermia at any temperature below body temperature. People have and do become hypothermic at temperatures of 85 F / 29.4 C to 98 F / 36.6 C. On the other hand, if people have adequate hydration (if they drink enough fluids), they can survive surprisingly high temperatures for sustained periods. In fact, though the study didn’t specifically mention it, there is a likelihood that many of the deaths relating to heat were due to dehydration.

Still, how many people have given thought to what would happen if the earth continues to get colder? This is food for thought, is it not?


What do you think?

10 Points

Written by Rex Trulove


  1. Interesting information! We live in the south but came from the north. How I remember the freezing cold winters, now we’re sweating like no tomorrow. Hubby always says you can always put more layers on in the cold but can’t take everything off in the heat. I think the atmosphere is changing all around.

    • From what I’ve seen, it has gotten progressively colder. However, if this is a cycle, as I believe, we simply need to outlast it and the cycle will one day swing the other direction. :)) In 2011, the south got a huge dose of cold, so it might be a wakeup call to be ready for both extremes. That really isn’t a bad notion.

  2. Either way to die from the extreme weather would be excruciating.
    I am not surprised the low income and elderly are at the highest risk.
    Very sad to say the least.

  3. You have the disadvantage of living on a continent, so you are bound to experience greater extremes of heat and cold than those of us who live on an island to the east of the North Atlantic Ocean. Even so, people can die of the cold in the UK! It is also the case that you can die of the cold in a desert – at night, that is.

    • Both points are quite true. As far as the island, you are also surrounded by fairly warm currents, so even though you are north of us in latitude, your temperatures tend to be milder. Here in Montana, we are prone to temperature extremes; bitter cold in the winter and hot and dry in the summer.

      As for the desert, that is something that a lot of people don’t realize. It can and often does drop below freezing in the desert, even in the spring or fall. Being prepared for the extreme heat can be deadly at night if a person isn’t also prepared for the cold.

  4. No use saying anything, Rachael wrote what I was going to say. And Happy Monday, today’s temps are supposed to be a record high of 115 degrees, and they have cancelled school.

      • Right here, the frost has burned off and it is almost 40. It is possible that it will get up to the mid 50s today before again dropping to below freezing. This is pretty typical for here, though it is a couple of weeks early. Fall is definitely here in Montana. Two weeks ago, the maples and cottonwoods had green leaves. Now they are yellow and gold, most of them already on the ground.

  5. We humans have a small range of temperature tolerances as compared to other creatures. We have to make sure that we don’t affect the environment negatively now and in the future.

    • What is amazing is that people can survive in places that are often below freezing and they can live in the hottest deserts. It can be difficult to remember that the difference in temperature between the two extremes is less than 100 F.

        • Just don’t forget to increase your potassium and sodium levels, to replenish the electrolytes lost in the heat. This morning, we have ice fog here. It is an interesting phenomenon. The air temperature is a few degrees above freezing, but the fog is below freezing and deposits ice on everything it touches.

    • I’m the same way. In the heat of summer, I just need to remember to increase the amount of fluid I take in and increase my electrolyte levels. In the winter, the cold can be very deceptive and by the time I realize that I’m really cold, there isn’t much time to correct the issue.

  6. I have noticed that cold weather scares me more than the heat in Louisiana. I have seen on television shows that when a person freezes to death is like going to sleep due to the cold effects.

    • For the most part, I can believe that, though there would be a lot of discomfort first, I’d imagine. Here in Montana, it isn’t just the cold temperatures, it is also the wind chill. It can be relatively mild; 30 below zero. If there is a 10 mph wind behind it, though, it feels much colder and a person can die rapidly. In those conditions, they tell people not to stay out in it for longer than a half hour, even if they are bundled up. They close schools and businesses when it gets that cold.

      I’ve experienced the onset of hypothermia. I’ve also suffered from heat exhaustion and passed out from it. I can say that it took a lot less time to recover from the later than with the former. In the latter case, I was rushed to an infirmary and was given a salt pill. I felt better in less than a half hour. In the first case, it took several hours to get my core body temperature back up to ‘normal’.

        • What fascinates me is the temperatures at which people can easily feel the difference of an increase or decrease. At 70 F, most people can feel the difference if it gets 1-2 degrees hotter or colder. At 100 degrees, people don’t feel much of a difference if it gets 5-10 degrees hotter. Likewise, -5 F feels pretty much the same as -30 F, even though it is substantially colder.