A Comparison of the Alabama Heat Wave of August 2007 with that of June/July 1980

Kevin J. Pence and Jim Stefkovich
National Weather Service, Birmingham Alabama

 

ABSTRACT

There were 123 heat-related deaths in Alabama during the summer of 1980, with 115 of them associated with the 23-day heat wave of late June/early July. That became the modern benchmark for heat waves in Alabama. Fortunately, no summer since 1980 has come close to equaling that number of heat-related deaths. The Alabama heat wave of August 2007 resulted in 13 heat-related fatalities. In 2007, heat-related datasets were collected at Alabama hospitals for the first time, and reported to the Alabama Department of Public Health. Close to 700 people were treated for heat stress, with 164 admitted to hospitals for overnight care.

Heat index values, for the summers of 1980 and 2007, were calculated for every hour, at five observation sites across Alabama. A comparison indicates the maximum daily heat index values during the summer of 1980 were significantly higher than those in 2007. The city of Birmingham recorded 49 days with a heat index greater than or equal to 100 degrees during the summer of 1980. There were only 18 such days in 2007. The heat index at Birmingham reached or exceeded 110 degrees eight times in July 1980, while the maximum heat index in August 2007 was 107.

The common factors related to those who perished during the heat waves of 1980 and 2007 are the individuals were generally elderly, lived alone (shut-ins), and did not have air conditioning in their homes. With air conditioning being more available today than it was in 1980, we speculate a future heat wave comparable to the summer of 1980 would not result in one-hundred plus deaths in Alabama. The majority of the people treated at hospitals for heat stress in August 2007 were of working age (25-60) and were working outside when they developed heat-related problems. Therefore, future heat stress related educational efforts should focus more on people who work outside during heat waves, since they are the ones most at risk.

A presentation was given at the National Weather Association's 33rd Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, October , 2008. View the Poster...Here. The poster file is large and may take a moment to download.


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