Over recent decades, hurricanes and other tropical cyclones in the U.S. were associated with up to 33.4 percent higher death rates from several major causes in subsequent months.
This is the finding of research from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Colorado State University, Imperial College London, and Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, published in the journal JAMA.
The study exemplifies how far-reaching and varied the hidden costs to life could be from climate-related disasters and climate change.
Until now, there had been a critical knowledge gap about cause-specific tropical cyclone mortality risks from a large-scale study covering the entire U.S. across multiple decades.
After collecting 33.6 million U.S. death records from 1988 to 2018, the researchers used a statistical model to calculate how death rates changed after tropical cyclones and hurricanes (a subset of the strongest tropical cyclones) when compared to equivalent periods in other years.
The researchers found the largest overall increase in the month of hurricanes for injuries (33.4 percent), with increases in death rates in the month after tropical cyclones for injuries (3.7 percent), infectious and parasitic diseases (1.8 percent), respiratory diseases (1.3 percent), cardiovascular diseases (1.2 percent), and neuropsychiatric conditions (1.2 percent).
Residents of 1206 counties, covering half of the entire U.S. population, experienced at least one tropical cyclone during the study period. Tropical cyclones were most frequent in eastern and south-eastern coastal counties.
“Recent tropical cyclone seasons—which have yielded stronger, more active, and longer-lasting tropical cyclones than previously recorded—indicate that tropical cyclones will remain an important public health concern,” said Robbie Parks, PhD, post-doctoral research scientist at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and first author. “Our results show that tropical cyclones in the U.S. were associated with increases in deaths for several major causes of death, speaking to the ‘hidden burden’ of climate-related exposures and climate change.
An outsized proportion of low-income and historically-disadvantaged communities in the United States reside in tropical cyclone-affected areas; understanding the public health consequences of climate-related disasters such as hurricanes and other tropical cyclones is an essential component of environmental justice.”
Female injury death rate increases (46.5 percent) were higher than males (27.6 percent) in the month of hurricanes. Death rate increases were higher for those aged 65 years or older in the month after tropical cyclones (6.4 percent) when compared with younger ages (2.7 percent).
“In the U.S., tropical cyclones, such as hurricanes and tropical storms, have a devastating effect on society, yet a comprehensive assessment of their continuing health impacts had been lacking,” said Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou, ScD, assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, and senior author. “Our study is a first major step in better understanding how cyclones may affect deaths, which provides an essential foundation for improving resilience to climate-related disasters across the days, weeks, months, and years after they wreak destruction.”
Co-authors are: Jaime Benavides, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health; G. Brooke Anderson, Colorado State University; Rachel Nethery, and Francesca Dominici, Harvard Chan School of Public Health; Majid Ezzati, Imperial College, London; and Ana Navas-Acien and Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.
The study was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (grants K99 ES033742, R01 ES030616, R01 ES028805, R01 ES028033, R01 MD012769, R01 AG066793, R01 ES029950, R01 AG060232, RF1 AG071024, R21 ES028472, P30 ES009089, and P42 ES010349; Pathways to Equitable Healthy Cities grant from the Wellcome Trust (209376/Z/17/Z), the UK Medical Research Council (MR/S019669/1), and the British Heart Foundation Imperial College Centre for Research Excellence (RE/18/4/34215). Work on the U.S. mortality data is supported by a grant from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as part of the Center for Clean Air Climate Solution.
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
Founded in 1922, the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting New Yorkers, the nation and the world. The Columbia Mailman School is the fourth largest recipient of NIH grants among schools of public health. Its nearly 300 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as preventing infectious and chronic diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, health policy, climate change and health, and public health preparedness. It is a leader in public health education with more than 1,300 graduate students from 55 nations pursuing a variety of master’s and doctoral degree programs. The Columbia Mailman School is also home to numerous world-renowned research centers, including ICAP and the Center for Infection and Immunity. For more information, please visit www.mailman.columbia.edu.
Notes to editors:
'Association of Tropical Cyclones With County-Level Mortality in the US’ is published in the journal JAMA. For an embargoed copy of the paper contact JAMA Network Media Relations via +1 312-464-5262 or email@example.com
Association of tropical cyclones with county-level mortality in the US
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