Global climate change is anticipated to drive increasingly extreme weather phenomena, such as heat waves that impact human health, in the coming decades.

A recent analysis led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health calculates that the city of Chicago could experience between 166 and 2,217 excess deaths per year attributable to heat waves using three different climate change scenarios for the final decades of the 21st century.

From 1987 to 2005, Chicago experienced 14 heat waves lasting an average of 9.2 days, which resulted in an estimated 53 excess deaths per year.

“Our study looks to quantify the impact of increased heat waves on human mortality. For a major U.S. city like Chicago, the impact will likely be profound and potentially devastating,” said Roger Peng, PhD, lead author of the study and associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. “We would expect the impact to be less severe with mitigation efforts including lowering CO2 emissions.”

The study was published in the May 1 edition of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The same phenomenon is occurring in British Columbia where two heat waves in the summer of 2010 may have contributed to the deaths of more than 200 people across the province, according to a preliminary analysis by the BC Centre for Disease Control.

These statistics point to a need for adaptation planning and strategy that addresses the impacts of climate change and ensures the safety of those most vulnerable to extreme weather. ACT addressed this issue in its 2009 report: Climate Change Adaptation and Extreme Weather, authored by eminent Canadian disaster management expert Dr. Gordon McBean.