Chicago Heat Wave of 1995
The heat wave in July 1995 in Chicago was one of the worst weather-related disasters in Illinois history with approximately 525 deaths over a 5-day period.
As noted by Changnon et al. (1996), "The loss of human life in hot spells in summer exceeds that caused by all other weather events in the United States combined, including lightning, rainstorms/floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes." Weather hazards such as tornadoes, floods, lightning, and winter storms each result in about 100 deaths per year on average, while heat waves result in about 1000 deaths per year on average.
On July 12, 1995, a dangerous hot-air mass settled over Chicago, producing three consecutive days of temperatures over 99 degrees Fahrenheit, heat indices (which measure the heat experienced by a typical person) around 120, high humidity, and little evening cooling. The heat wave was not the most extreme weather system in the city's history, but it proved to be Chicago's most deadly environmental event. During the week of the most severe weather, 485 city residents, many of whom were old, alone, and impoverished, died of causes that medical examiners attributed to the heat. Several hundred decedents were never autopsied, though, and after the event the Chicago Department of Public Health discovered that 739 Chicagoans in excess of the norm had perished while thousands more had been hospitalized for heat-related problems.
Sept. 11 was an epochal event in American culture, so it's no surprise that it's everyone's favorite comparison to the destruction of New Orleans. But the more instructive analogy is another great urban catastrophe in recent American history: The 1995 Chicago heat wave, when a blend of extreme weather, political mismanagement, and abandonment of vulnerable city residents resulted in the loss of water, widespread power outages, thousands of hospitalizations, and 739 deaths in a devastating week.
This summer is the heat wave's 10th anniversary. Yet the event has been largely forgotten as government agencies charged with protecting Americans from disasters have ignored the lessons it offered—and people are dying on the Gulf Coast as a result.
The 1995 Chicago heat wave was a heat wave which led to approximately 700 heat-related deaths in Chicago over a period of five days. Eric Klinenberg, author of the 2002 book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, has noted that in the United States, the loss of human life in hot spells in summer exceeds that caused by all other weather events combined, including lightning, rain, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes. The heat wave heavily impacted the wider Midwestern region, with dozens of additional deaths in both St. Louis, Missouri and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as well.