Dear Tom,
What weather phenomenon causes the greatest number of deaths in the United States each year?
Jerome M., Midlothian

Dear Jerome,

Several weather occurrences (and weather-related events) are major weather causes of death in the United States. In the 30-year period 1992-2021, the leading cause of weather-related deaths has been summer heat. It is an underrated and often overlooked “silent killer”. The number of deaths from any given weather killer varies considerably from year to year, but, year in and year out, statistics show that intense summer heat is the nation’s leading weather killer. When high humidity accompanies extreme heat, the deadly nature of multi-day heat waves is greatly magnified. A four-day siege of stifling heat and humidity in mid July, 1995, claimed more than 700 lives here in the Chicago area — the area’s worst-ever killer weather event. Milwaukee also recorded many heat-related deaths.

Nationally, extreme heat has claimed an average of 158 lives annually, based on the 1992-2021 period. Although not a weather event, flooding takes 90 lives annually. Tornadoes account for 71 deaths, winter cold 65 deaths, high wind 60 deaths, rip currents (again, not a weather event) 55 deaths, hurricanes 45 deaths and lightning 40 deaths.