Winter precipitation hazards in the United States
Black, Alan Wayne
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Winter precipitation is a significant hazard to lives and property in the United States. This study examines the two main types of indirect fatalities—situations where the winter precipitation leads to a circumstance that causes a death—due to winter precipitation in the United States: vehicle crashes and Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisonings. Over 800 people per year are killed due to winter precipitation related motor vehicle crashes, significantly more than other, prominent weather hazards such as tornadoes. The greatest risk of death due to winter precipitation related crash is found in the Great Lakes, Midwest, and western U.S. While little trend was found in motor vehicle fatalities, aviation fatalities had a significant downward trend, with most aviation fatalities occurring in the high terrain of the western U.S. Analysis of 13 cities finds that property damage, injury, and fatal crash risk increases during winter weather, especially if a reduction in driving is assumed. This risk is greatest during more intense precipitation and across the mid-Mississippi and Ohio River valleys. Finally, fatal CO poisonings related to winter weather induced power outage are examined to determine the characteristics of victims and the geographic extent of these deaths. Most fatalities were among men and those aged 65 or older, with most victims having a high school education or less. Non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites are disproportionately affected by winter precipitation power outage related CO poisoning, but Hispanics may be more vulnerable to these events. Spatial analysis of the deaths found that most were in the mid-Atlantic, while states in the Great Plains and Intermountain West that typically see high rates of CO poisonings had no fatalities. Although winter precipitation may not receive much attention from researchers or the general public, it is a hazard which can cause significantly more deaths than other, more prominent, meteorological hazards. It is hoped that this work will provide the groundwork for future research and applications to reduce the risk of winter precipitation and ultimately save lives.