Combatting the heat wave of 1980: lessons for the future

Urban Health. 1981 Sep;10(7):26-30.


Throughout the summer of 1980, much of the nation suffered record-breaking, sustained hot and often humid weather. In cities throughout the country, the oppressive heat often led to crisis situations, and emergency procedures were hastily developed to provide shelter and medical assistance. The heat wave of 1980 was particularly severe in St. Louis, Missouri. On July 17, hospital visits and admissions related to the heat reached a peak of 54 cases. Death rates soared. During the period from June 21 to July 28, the number of deaths in St. Louis rose by 40.6 percent--from 864 deaths in 1979 to 1,215 in the same period in 1980--with the heaviest toll among the poor and elderly. Heat waves of significant medical and social implications are not new to St. Louis. Indeed, conditions similar to 1980 have occurred ten times since 1911, with the most recent heat wave prior to 1980 occurring in 1966. The long periods between crises have caused medical and social planners to neglect or overlook preparations for heat-related illness. Consequently, each new government and medical generation has to deal with these crises from "scratch."

MeSH terms

  • Disaster Planning*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Heat Exhaustion
  • Humans
  • Missouri