Nearly 3,000 people have been killed in the United States in the last five years because of weather-related events and conditions. Extreme weather events, including tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and extreme temperatures can all be deadly.
The number of Americans killed by weather events and conditions varies widely from state to state. Geography, climate, and even economic status play a role in a particular state’s weather-related death rate. In order to determine the states with the most dangerous weather, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed state by state fatalities attributable to weather from 2011 through 2015 from the National Weather Service. Each of the states with the most dangerous weather had a five-year fatality rate that was more than double the national rate during that period.
Extreme heat is the most common cause of weather-related fatalities in the United States. Since 1988, there have been 3,806 heat-related fatalities compared to 830 deaths attributable to extreme cold. Recent trends suggest that the problem is likely to get worse. Four of the last five years rank as the hottest on record.
Many of the states with the most dangerous weather, including Alabama, the state with the highest weather fatality rate, have high fatality figures due to a devastating series of tornadoes that tore across the Southeastern U.S. in late April 2011. Hundreds of lives were lost to more than 200 tornadoes, which wreaked havoc over a four-day period. Oklahoma, the state with sixth highest weather-related fatality rate, lies nearly in the center of Tornado Alley, an area notorious for the regularity with which tornadoes touch down.
In addition to extreme temperatures and powerful storms, flooding is one of the deadliest weather conditions in the United States. Heavy spring time rains, when combined with melting snowpacks, can lead to catastrophic flooding, particularly in areas along the Mississippi River. In fact, three of the seven states with the most dangerous weather are situated along the banks of the Mississippi. An average of more than 80 deaths are attributable to flooding every year in the United States.
While geography and climate play a central role in dangerous weather, poverty amplifies its negative effects. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, weather-related death rates are “2 to 7 times as high in low-income counties as in high-income counties.” This is likely because those living below the poverty line to not have the means to prepare for, or adapt to, extreme weather events and conditions, according to the CDC. It is perhaps no coincidence that the poverty rate is as high or higher than the 15.6% national rate in each of the states on this list except for Wyoming.
To determine the states with the most dangerous weather, 24/7 Wall St. compiled state by state fatality rates attributable to weather from the National Weather Service, a component of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. We totalled all weather-related deaths from 2011 through 2015 and adjusted the five-year total for every 1 million state residents. The five-year period was used because weather fatalities are susceptible to large year-over-year fluctuations. The total value of damage caused by weather events also came from the NWS. Population and poverty figures came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 5 year American Community Survey.
These are the states with the most dangerous weather.