Heat Wave Deaths May Triple by the 2050s

Heat waves can be especially deadly in urban areas. (Image credit: Nexus7 | Dreamstime)

The number of people dying because of heat waves could rise three to four times in some regions by the middle of this century, as a result of climate change and population growth, according to a new U.K. study.

Researchers analyzed the relationship between weather fluctuations and death rates in the past, and projected the results for the decades to come.

They found that by the 2050s, the number of heat-related deaths in England and Wales could surge by 3.5 times its current number, which is around 2,000 deaths yearly in these regions, according to the study published today (Feb. 3) in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. [Top 10 Surprising Results of Global Warming]

Exposure to hot weather can bring about hyperthermia, a condition in which a person's body absorbs more heat than it dissipates, resulting in dangerously high body temperatures that require medical attention.

Every year, about 650 Americans die from hyperthermia — a death toll greater than that of tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The elderly and people with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk of dying from hyperthermia.

Heat-related death tolls vary across countries, but scientists have warned that a growing number of people will be at risk for hyperthermia, as populations grow older and hot summer days become more common because of the rise in average global temperature.

In a previous study, researchers at Columbia University in New York found that the number of heat-related deaths in Manhattan could approximately double by the 2080s.

In the new study, the researchers based their calculations on the daily average temperatures in the U.K. for the years 2000 to 2009, and the projected temperatures for the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s, derived from data from the British Atmospheric Data Centre.

According to these projections, the number of hot weather days in the U.K. is predicted to rise steeply, tripling in frequency by the mid-2080s, while the number of cold days is expected to fall at a slower pace, and reduce cold-related deaths by 2 percent, the researchers found.

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Bahar Gholipour
Staff Writer
Bahar Gholipour is a staff reporter for Live Science covering neuroscience, odd medical cases and all things health. She holds a Master of Science degree in neuroscience from the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris, and has done graduate-level work in science journalism at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She has worked as a research assistant at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives at ENS.