Despite promises, California doesn’t know how many people died in record summer heat wave
July 18, 2017 by John Denton
The temperatures in California are back in the triple digits, and people are taking it as a sign they’re beginning to adjust to the heat. But the state isn’t sure how many people have died from the heat this summer – and could be years from knowing.
The ‘official’ estimate is 1,134 people died in the state in 2016, but some sources put the figure at 3,000.
If you believe the state Department of Health, 1,934 people have died this summer, with another 1,836 in the hospital. The most recent data, from July 11, puts the total at 3,134 dead.
The official death count is based on the coroner’s office, which puts the number of deaths at 1,134 if you include the number of hospitalizations, which include the number of those who have died. But it’s impossible to know with any certainty how many people have died, says the state’s health department. The California Highway Patrol has provided statistics as far back as 2001. But they only went as far back as 2002.
In the case of the death rate, the state health department reports how often people die of severe heat. This year, it is at an average of 2.5 deaths per day. This is higher than any other year on record. The previous year, in 2015, there were 2.4 deaths per day.
There have been only 11 days on record when the death rate has been above 10 per day, which is the threshold at which it becomes statistically significant to assume you’ve got more deaths than you have reported. In other words, you could have a higher than average death rate on any given day, and no one would know unless you provided the state information about deaths.
That means the state health department can’t rely on the death rate to give an accurate total, says Dr. Mike Rains of the University of California, Santa Barbara, who studies heat and