Las Vegas heat waves and the correlation with heat-related deaths

An image to illustrate Las Vegas heat waves and the correlation to heat-related deaths
© iStock/trekandshoot

Scientists at the Desert Research Institute (DRI), Nevada State College, Universidad de Las Americas Puebla, and several undergraduates from Nevada State College have identified a correlation between Las Vegas heat waves and heat-related deaths over the last ten years.

According to the Desert Research Institute, over several decades extreme heat events, particularly in the American southwest, such as Las Vegas heat waves have become hotter, more frequent, and longer-lasting. There is a growing number of people living in cities such as Las Vegas, to whom the trends pose significant health risks.

The health risks of Las Vegas heat waves

Urban areas of the Southwest have several factors which compound the health risks of extreme heat events such as Las Vegas heat waves. These include:

  • The heat-absorbing properties of common materials like asphalt exacerbate the urban heat island effect, which is the high temperatures in cities; and
  • The rapid growth of city populations such as in Las Vegas, especially among those aged 55 and older, means more people are exposed to the risk.

Erick Bandala, Ph.D., an assistant research professor at DRI and the lead author on the study, explained: “Current climate change projections show an increased likelihood of extreme temperature events in the Las Vegas area over the next several years. Understanding recent extreme heat trends and their relationship to health hazards is essential to protecting vulnerable populations from risk in the future.”

Heat-related deaths

Bandala added: “From 2007 to 2016, there have been 437 heat-related deaths in Las Vegas, with the greatest number of those deaths occurring in 2016. Interestingly, 2016 also shows one of the highest heat index measures over the last 35 years. This shows a clear relationship between increasingly intense heat events in our area and public health effects.”

Bandala concluded: “This research helps us better understand the connection between the climate changes we’ve experienced in Las Vegas and their impact to public health over the last 35 years. Ideally, this data analysis will help our community adapt to the changes yet to come.”

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