Health impacts of extreme weather: Flood fatalities in Texas

Hatim Osman Sharif, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Floods are the leading cause of fatalities related to natural disasters in Texas. Texas leads the nation in flash flood fatalities. From 1959 through 2009 there were three times more fatalities in Texas (840) than the following state Pennsylvania (265). Texas also leads the nation in flood-related injuries (7753). Flood fatalities in Texas represent a serious public health problem. This study addresses several objectives of Healthy People 2010 including reducing deaths from motor vehicle accidents (Objective 15-15), reducing nonfatal motor vehicle injuries (Objective 15-17), and reducing drownings (Objective 15-29). The study examined flood fatalities that occurred in Texas between 1959 and 2008. Flood fatality statistics were extracted from three sources: flood fatality databases from the National Climatic Data Center, the Spatial Hazard Event and Loss Database for the United States, and the Texas Department of State Health Services. The data collected for flood fatalities include the date, time, gender, age, location, and type of flood. Inconsistencies among the three databases were identified and discussed. Analysis reveals that most fatalities result from driving into flood water (77%). Spatial analysis indicates that more fatalities occurred in counties containing major urban centers – some of the Flash Flood Alley counties (Bexar, Dallas, Travis, and Tarrant), Harris County (Houston), and Val Verde County (Del Rio). An intervention strategy targeting the behavior of driving into flood water is proposed. The intervention is based on the Health Belief model. The main recommendation of the study is that flood fatalities in Texas can be reduced through a combination of improved hydrometeorological forecasting, educational programs aimed at enhancing the public awareness of flood risk and the seriousness of flood warnings, and timely and appropriate action by local emergency and safety authorities.

Subject Area

Public Health Education|Epidemiology

Recommended Citation

Sharif, Hatim Osman, "Health impacts of extreme weather: Flood fatalities in Texas" (2009). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1470211.