Hot and cold, life and death

We have seen various analyses of weather-related deaths, and the one published this week by the Centers for Disease Control surprised us.

Far and away, the No. 1 killer is extreme cold, according to the National Health Statistics Reports study, out-ranking heat by about a 2-to-1 ratio.

The five-year study, encompassing the 2006-10 period, took a somewhat different approach from other analyses we’ve seen.

It didn’t limit the definition to direct causation, or used a simple “excess mortality” system – comparing deaths on particularly hot or cold days with average daily mortality.

Instead, the CDC counted cases in which weather was a direct cause, and included cases in which the death certificates suggested that weather was a contributing factor.

The result was an average of just over 2,000 deaths annually. Of those, cold was a factor in 63 percent, and heat, 31 percent. We would have guessed a reverse ratio.

 Despite the sound and fury, storms and assorted mayhem accounted for just 6 percent of all deaths.

One other note of significance: The death rates for heat and cold were significantly higher among African-Americans, according to the study.