Sun Belt residents more likely to die in natural disasters

Published 18 December 2008

People who live in the U.S. Sun Belt — that is, in the southern part of the country — are much more likely to die of natural disasters than their fellow countrymen on live in the north; “small” disasters such as heat waves, floods, and ice storms kill many more people to headline-grabbing hurricanes and tornadoes

You thought it is safer to live in Arizona than in New York City? Think again. During the past four decades there has been a considerable internal migration within the United States, with more and more people moving from Rust Belt states in the north to Sun Belt states in the south. Some of those who uprooted and moved may want to reconsider, as new studies show that southerners are more likely to die from the effects of the weather than people living in any other region of the United States.

New Scientist’s Ewen Callaway writes that for all the attention garnered by catastrophic hurricanes such as Katrina and Andrew, simple heat waves kill far more people than all natural disasters combined, according to a newly published county-by-county map of natural hazard deaths (see maps below). Other extreme summer hazards, such as floods, and cold winter weather also outranked hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires, according to geographers Kevin Borden and Susan Cutter, of the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Overall, natural disasters account for less than 5 percent of natural hazard deaths across the United States.

Large cities such as San Francisco and New York are among the safest places to live, but if city living is not for you, the odds of dying from the weather are lowest in the Midwest.

-read more in Kevin Borden and Susan Cutter, “Spatial patterns of natural hazards mortality in the United States,”  International Journal of Health Geographics 7, no. 64 (17 December 2008) doi:10.1186/1476-072X-7-64)