Severe local storms: the leading cause of deaths in the US

One of my colleagues (a hydrometeorologist, naturally) claims that flash floods are the leading cause of deaths in the US.  And I always believed him. Why would I not?

So imagine my surprise at this article in the International Journal of Health Geographics of an apples-to-apples comparison of mortality due to natural hazards in the coterminous United States

Note that they have broken tornadoes, severe weather (winds and hail) and lightning into separate categories.  These are what in the meteorological community would be considered severe local storms. Deaths due to severe local storms account for a whopping 41% of deaths due to natural hazards.  Meanwhile, floods (not just flash floods) account for only 14%, drawfed by both heat/drought (20%) and winter weather (18%).

Meanwhile, hurricane forecasting and evacuation have gotten good enough that tropical storms and mass movement account for just 2% of deaths in the US. 


  1. Yet NOAA spends most of its resources on hydro, tsunamis, wildfires, and aviation weather hazards! We've done a pitiful job of explaining our importance.

  2. The database that the authors put together has some serious problems, particularly pre-1990. The 2nd and 3rd biggest flash flood death events since 1950 (Big Thompson in 1976 and Johnstown in 1977) are both listed as Severe Storm/Thunder Storm, not as floods. That also goes for all the West Coast wintertime storms (there are a couple of 30+ fatality week-long flood events in California in the 80s) and even two "Severe Storm" deaths in January in Ketchikan County, Alaska, with the remarks column saying "Anticyclone (cold and wind)."

    Post-1990, when Storm Data got a little better about describing things, there were ~2.3 times as many flood deaths as severe storm deaths. Prior to that, there are a few more storm deaths than flood deaths. Conservatively, you might need to cut the severe storm death toll by 40%.