Costliest Heat Waves 1901–2013

Updated June 26, 2019 | Infoplease Staff

A heat wave is a prolonged period of excessive heat, generally ten degrees or more above average, often combined with excessive humidity. This kind of heat kills. After only extreme cold, heat waves are responsible for the most weather-related deaths in the United States-more than lightning, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes. Often coupled with sustained periods of drought-and its accompanying devastating effects on crops-heat can also causes heavy economic losses. In the table below, find the most devastating heat waves in the U.S. from 1901–2013.

Date Location Description Human Cost Economic Cost
July, 1901 Eastern United States 724 deaths in New York City alone 9,500 n.a.
1934 From N.Y. and Pa. across the Great Plains to the Calif. coast 49 days over 100°F; 27 days over 106°F 500+ n.a.
1936 Plains, Upper Midwest and Great Lake States peak of the "Dust Bowl"; 43 days over 100°F and 24 days over 106°F 5,000 n.a.
1954 11 states: from eastern Colorado through Kansas, Oklahoma, part of Texas, Missouri, and Arkansas, southern Illinois, and extending to western Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and parts of the Carolinas heat wave; 117°F on July 14 in St. Louis 300 n.a.
Aug. 31–Sept. 7, 1955 Los Angeles heat wave 946 n.a.
July 14–26, 1972 New York City heat wave 891 n.a.
June 6–Nov. 30, 1980 Central and eastern U.S. drought and heat wave 10,000 $20 billion
June 1–Aug. 31, 1986 Southeastern U.S. drought and heat wave 100 1.3 billion
June, 1988 Central and eastern U.S. drought and heat wave 7,500 40 billion
June 1–Aug. 31, 1993 Southeastern U.S. drought and heat wave 16 1 billion
July, 1995 Midwest "Chicago heat wave" in which 400 died in 9 days in the city 1,000 n.a.
June 1 –Aug.31, 1998 Texas/Oklahoma eastward to Carolinas drought and heat wave 200 7.5 billion
June 1 –Aug.31, 1999 Eastern U.S. dry summer with high temps 502 1 billion
March 1–Aug. 31, 2000 South-central and southeastern U.S. severe drought and persistent heat 140 4 billion
July 16–25, 2006 California two-week heat wave 140 n.a.
June 1–Nov. 30, 2007 Southeastern U.S. and Great Plains, Ohio Valley, and Great Lakes area severe drought and heat wave; August's heat particularly intense in southeast. 50 5 billion
2012 Calif., Nev., Idaho, Mont., Wyo., Utah, Colo., Ariz., N.M., Texas, N.D., S.D., Neb., Kans., Okla., Ark., Mo., Iowa, Minn., Ill., Ind., Ga. June saw 3,282 daily high temps across the U.S.; drought conditions affected more than half the country for much of the year; heat wave caused hundreds of direct and indirect (heat stress) deaths 123 30 billion
March 1–Sept. 30, 2013 Texas, Okla., Kans., Neb., S.D., Colo., Utah, Wyo., Idaho, Nev., N.M., Ariz., Calif., Ore. drought improved in midwest and plains states, but expanded into western states 53 n.a.
Source: National Climatic Data Center, National Weather Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); American Meterological Society; Midwestern Regional Climate Center.

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