Despite promises, California doesn’t know how many people died in record summer heat wave
June 21, 2017
State data show that the summer of 2017 was the hottest on record, beating out only 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2008
The heat wave of a record setting magnitude gripped most of California over the last month, and the state’s health agency predicted that thousands will have died from heat. While officials said the death toll was likely higher than what they had counted on, there is now a growing chorus of criticism from the public, and from experts who believe the state’s official death count is likely a gross underestimate.
In August the state health agency, the California Department of Public Health, revised its official death toll from the record-typing heat wave. According to the new estimates, the state reported 4,459 heat-related deaths, 1,247 of which were classified as “natural causes.” In other words, officials said, most of the heat-related deaths, 1,267 of the 4,459, were the result of natural causes — heatstroke, dehydration from lack of access to water or heat, and the like.
But a new analysis by NPR, working with Stanford University, found that the official California death toll, 4,459, was in fact much higher. The death toll was originally reported as 4,417 by the state health agency. The NPR analysis revealed that the true number was more in line with an earlier estimate by the Associated Press, which estimated that 2,500 people died from the heat wave.
“It is impossible to know how many people died of heat-related causes in the heat wave that struck the state in July,” said Steven Koonin, Stanford’s Robert and Grace Gluck Professor of Public Health. “We know that heat is bad, but we can never be sure how bad it is.”
A state health agency official has conceded to NPR that his agency’s original estimates,