Heat-related Deaths in Manhattan Projected to Rise 20% in 2020s

Posted on May 20, 2013

A new study from Columbia University's Earth Institute and the Mailman School of Public Health projects heat-related deaths in Manhattan to climb 20% in the 2020s. The same study provides worst-case scenarios of heat-related deaths soaring 90% in the 2080s. The study also found that the largest percentage increase in deaths would come not during the traditionally sweltering months of June through August, but in May and September. These periods are generally pleasant today, but will probably increasingly feel like part of the brutal dog days of summer.

The study found the best-case scenario for the 2020s in Manhattan projects a net 15% increase in heat-related deaths. The worst scenario is a rise in heat wave deaths of more than 30%. The worst case scenario would mean 1,000 annual deaths if Manhattan's current population of 1.6 million remains the same. However, a city wide power outage timed with a strong heat wave could cause many more heat-related deaths.

The researchers say daily records from Manhattan's Central Park show that average monthly temperatures already increased by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit from 1901 to 2000. This is substantially more than the global and U.S. trends. Cities tend to concentrate heat as buildings and pavement soak it up during the day and give it off at night. 2012 was Manhattan's warmest year on record.

Dr. Radley Horton, a climate scientist at the Earth Institute's Center for Climate Systems Research, notes that heat waves can kill tens of thousands of people. Horton says the record 2010 heat wave that hit Russia killed 55,000 people and a 2003 heat wave killed 70,000 people in central and western Europe.