It’s been five years since this many people were killed by extreme heat. Sweltering conditions in India this month have reportedly killed more than 1,800 people, making it one of the most devastating heat waves in history.
Deadly hot temperatures typically don’t get as much press as tornados, earthquakes or even blizzards likely because they don’t photograph as well — but according to experts, heat waves are the deadliest weather event.
In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report finding that heat waves killed more Americans every year than any other type of extreme weather. The issue is especially dangerous in large cities, where heat is compounded by concrete, pavement and high population density.
Many of the reported deaths have come from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, which has a population of nearly 50 million. India’s deadly heat wave comes 20 years after one of the worst in American history.
Chicago, which has a population similar to that of Andhra Pradesh’s biggest city, was ravaged by unrelenting heat in July 1995. Over the course of five days, approximately 750 people died in the Chicago area, many of whom were poor and had no air conditioning. This is similar to the current Indian heat wave, as reports indicate many of its victims are in poverty.
During the 1995 Chicago heat wave, temperatures reached a peak of 106 degrees, with lows not dropping below the 70s. Temperatures this week in India have been even higher, with the mercury climbing to 118 degrees in one city.
The CDC reports that hundreds of heat-related deaths can be prevented each year. The most effective ways to reduce body temperature during periods of extreme heat include dressing appropriately and drinking plenty of water. In areas with no air conditioning, the National Weather Service cautions against aiming an electric fan at oneself as it can speed dehydration — instead, they recommend aiming the fan toward an open window, to push hot air out.
Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.