Getting to the bottom of deadly weather

KAUST researchers find that extreme and moderate cold weather causes more deaths in India than moderate and extreme heatwaves, contrary to expectations.

Jan 5, 2022

A study of the correlation between temperature and mortality in the Indian city of Pune has found that cold, rather than heat, is by far the bigger killer. This is at odds with warnings and mitigating measures authorities have been taking in anticipation of climate change.  Although South Asia is disproportionately affected by global warming, the finding is likely to remain true into the future.

“Most studies and warning systems in India focus on heatwaves. Of course, heatwaves are a big problem and they kill a lot of people,” says KAUST research fellow Vijendra Ingole. “But extreme cold and moderate cold kill a lot more people than moderate or extreme heat. Public health strategies should reflect this.”

The team of statisticians looked at two sets of data for the city over the period spanning January 2004 to December 2012. The first was mean daily temperature and the second was daily registered deaths. Records included little information on the age or occupation of those who died, or the cause of their demise, so the analysis was only stratified by sex.

Of deaths registered in the period, 6.5 percent were found to have been caused by nonoptimal temperatures, with 5.72 percent caused by cold and 0.84 percent caused by heat. This compared to 6.83 percent of deaths caused by cold and 0.49 percent caused by heat for India as a whole.

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