A Postmortem on the Heat Wave

A story in this morning's New York Times on last month's heat wave makes for grim reading. According to the paper's examination of records, approximately 140 Californians died from the heat during the month of July, “a death toll unlike any the state had seen from high temperatures since 1955, state officials said, before air-conditioning went mainstream.”

What is extraordinary about the death toll, aside from the high number, is the range of the heat's victims. Typically, it's the elderly who die during heat waves. But this time, “fewer than half of those who died in California were over 70, according to a compilation of the most recent coroners' reports, most of which are not yet complete.”

In San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles, for example, the average age of the 10 who died was 45.


“That was surprising to us, a real eye-opener,” Sandy Fatland, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County coroner, said of the ages. “Perhaps when we are middle-aged, we don't have people around who make us take care of ourselves; and left to our own devices, we don't.”

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