Weather Knowledge. 3. (45 -

Weather Knowledge - 45

The Worst Heat Waves in History (Not in Chronological Order)
Eric Luis


2010 Russia Heat Wave

Date: July - August, 2010
Highest Temperature: >100 °F
Deaths: 56,000

In 2010, Russia experienced the most extreme heat wave in more than a century. Temperatures exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the summer, which is exceedingly rare in Russia. The heat wave wreaked havoc on the nation, including destroying a large amount of the country's agricultural stock. Wildfires were also a massive problem, and smoke inhalation was a major factor in the massive death toll. Scientists predict that, as global temperatures rise, northern countries like Russia will be at a far greater risk of heat waves and wildfires than at any other point in recorded history. However, studies indicate the 2010 heat wave itself was likely due to natural variability rather than human-caused climate change.


Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

1901 Eastern United States Heat Wave

Date: June - July, 1901
Highest Temperature: 109 °F
Deaths: 9,500

Before the infamous Dust Bowl of the 1930s, this heat wave was considered the deadliest in US history. The entire eastern half of the country was affected, from St. Louis to New York City. Conditions in New York became so hot that the city's horses collapsed and died in massive numbers, with the lives of 250 horses being claimed within a few days. In the aftermath of the two month heat wave, nearly 10,000 people lost their lives. More Americans died during this heat wave than any other in the country's history.


Photo: Don Graham / Flickr / CC-BY-SA 2.0

1988 North American Drought

Date: Summer of 1988
Highest Temperature: Unknown
Deaths: 5,000 to 10,000

The 1988 North American drought was one of the worst weather disasters in North American history. The drought was prolonged and lasted throughout the summer of 1988 with unseasonably high temperatures breaking out in different places and at different times. This made it extremely difficult to figure out the exact origin of the high heat and low rainfall. Some theories attribute the drought to dense air in the upper atmosphere as well as early effects of climate change.

The drought was marked by weeks on end of temperatures reaching close to 100 degrees. It is unclear how many heat-related deaths could be attributed to the heat wave alone and not other factors, but thousands likely lost their lives due to excessive heat. In addition to the loss of life, power grids shut down frequently, causing outages.


Photo: Chris Light / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

1980 United States Heat Wave

Date: June - September, 1980
Highest Temperature: 108 °F
Deaths: At least, 1,700 but possibly up to 10,000 considering indirect deaths

Parts of the South and Midwest were hit with extremely high temperatures throughout the summer of 1980. This massive heat wave was one of the longest on record, and some estimates put the total death count as high as 10,000 people counting indirect deaths. In much of the country, temperatures did not dip below 90 degrees Fahrenheit for months on end. Roughly $20 billion in damages were recorded from agricultural sources affected by the ensuing drought, with livestock deaths also contributing to the financial burden. The heat wave came to an end with the arrival of Hurricane Allen.


Photo: Ville Miettinen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.0

2015 Indian Heat Wave

Date: June 5, 2015
Highest Temperature: 118 °F
Deaths: 2,500

Due to the late coming of India's monsoon season, the country was hit by a severe heatwave that left thousands dead. Temperatures got so high that streets in Dehli began to melt, morphing the asphalt and affecting transportation. Indian health authorities urged the population to take extreme precautions during the wave, telling citizens to stay hydrated, wear light clothes, and carry umbrellas to protect from sunburns. The heat wave finally came to an end with the arrival of the first monsoon of the season.


Photo: AliHayri93 / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

2015 Pakistan Heat Wave

Date: June 18 - June 24, 2015
Highest Temperature: 120 °F
Deaths: 2,000

A crippling heat wave smothered much of Pakistan during the height of Ramadan, an Islamic holy period where Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours. The city of Karachi was particularly affected, with much of the death toll coming from there and the surrounding areas. The situation became so dangerous religious figures urged worshippers to break their fast if recommended by a doctor for their health. The massive death toll put a strain on the city's mortuaries, who were inundated with more corpses than they could process.


Photo: Steven Collis / Flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

1896 Eastern North America Heat Wave

Date: August, 1896
Highest Temperature: Unknown
Deaths: 1,500

The summer of 1896 was devastating for Americans living on the East Coast, especially those in New York City. During the middle of August, a devastating heatwave struck the city and persisted for 10 days. The heat wave caused thousands of deaths, many of them due to living in overcrowded, dirty tenements that worsened the effects of the high heat. Theodore Roosevelt was a police commissioner in the city at the time, and he wrote about the horrifying conditions he witnessed in the streets. Roosevelt helped provide aid during the disaster and ensured residents had access to commodities like ice.


Photo: Christophe Meneboeuf / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

1987 Greece Heat Wave

Date: July - August 1987
Highest Temperature: 113 °F
Deaths: 1,300 - 1,500

Over a thousand Greeks lost their lives in the summer of 1987 after a prolonged heat wave scorched the region. It became so hot at times that gravediggers had to acquire ice from local fish markets in order to keep bodies from spoiling before they could be buried. Temperatures in Athens reached 113 degrees Fahrenheit, far above the average summer temperatures in the region. Lack of air conditioning in many Greek hospitals exasperated the death toll, and the elderly were hit particularly hard. The heat wave persisted for over a week before temperatures returned to normal levels.


Photo: iMahesh / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

2002 India Heat Wave

Date: April - May, 2002
Highest Temperature: 111 °F
Deaths: 1,200

At least 1,200 deaths were confirmed during India's brutal 2002 heatwave, which lasted for over a month. The biggest impacts were in India's state of Andhra Pradesh, located in the southeast of the country. Over 1,000 victims lost their lives in just two weeks, making it one of the deadliest weeks in the country's history. Winds from India's dry northwest spread across the country, bringing with them exceptionally high temperatures.


Photo: J. Crocker / Wikimedia Commons / Attribution

1995 Chicago Heat Wave

Date: July 1995
Highest Temperature: 106 °F
Deaths: 739

Approximately 215 people died on July 15, 1995, making it the worst day of Chicago's heat wave that year. Over 700 lost their lives by the end of the week. Temperatures remained above 90 degrees Fahrenheit for a full week, with several days seeing higher than 100 degree Fahrenheit weather. The high death toll was attributed to a multitude of factors that highlighted just how unprepared the city was for a disaster of this magnitude. Many people brushed off the threat of the heat, believing the severity of the situation to be overblown. The heat wave sparked a revolution in Chicago's disaster preparedness, with city officials hoping to prevent a similar tragedy from ever happening again.



2003 European Heat Wave

Date: July 20 - August 20, 2003
Highest Temperature: 104 °F
Deaths: 70,000+

The summer of 2003 was Europe's hottest since 1540, nearly 500 years ago. Tens of thousands succumbed to the heat across multiple nations due to scorching temperatures. France had a particularly high death toll, with estimates putting the dead at around 14,000. Daytime temperatures were punishing, and scarcely cooled even at night. One of the largest killers during the heat wave was stagnant air that accumulated pollutants and other toxins due to lack of circulation. Heat stroke and dehydration were also powerful killers, especially for older citizens.The heat wave cost the continent billions in lost crops and other damages. There is some disagreement as to why this particular heat wave was so devastating, but many experts lay the blame on global climate change.
















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