Hot car deaths reach record high

As of July 31, the number of children across the United States who have died of heatstroke when left in hot cars was at a record high.

This year, 29 children have died of heatstroke after being left in a vehicle. That’s more than at this point in previous years, according to Jan Null, a certified consulting meteorologist with the Department of Meteorology & Climate Science at San Jose State University. And 11 of those deaths were reported in the past week alone.

This “is the highest we’ve ever had,” said Null, who logs these and other statistics on

The previous record as of July 31 was 28 deaths in 2010, he explained, “a year where we ended up with 49 deaths for the year.”

The past week’s total of 11 deaths is not a record, said Null, who gathers his numbers primarily from media reports because official sources are less accurate, due to the use of codes.

“If it’s not coded exactly right, it doesn’t get counted,” he said. Official reports come up with only about half the numbers you find in the media, he explained.

“All my numbers are conservative,” said Null, who has been a meteorologist for 40 years. “There are several more each year that go under the radar.”

DIY data

Null began to track these sad occurrences in 2001, when local media asked him, after the death of a child in a car, how hot it could have gotten inside. Not knowing the answer, he said he’d look around and found nothing, so he decided to conduct his own research.

He put a remote thermometer in a vehicle to capture the internal temperature while an outside thermometer recorded the ambient temperature. (Null records temperatures in Fahrenheit for his website.)

“One of the really surprising things when I started looking at this is the amount of rise per time,” Null said. “This is as if you had the air conditioner running, you’ve driven into a parking spot, parked the car, turned it off, closed the door — the time starts. In the first 10 minutes, the average rise is 19 degrees.”

This effect is almost identical if you start at 70 degrees or 90 degrees, Null said. If you start at 70, in 10 minutes, it will be 89°F. If you start at 90, in 10 minutes, it will be 109°F.

“You get to these very high temperatures very rapidly,” he said. “How hot it got was one surprise,” but how fast it got to a “deadly temperature” was even more unexpected.

Medical professionals generally use 104-degree body temperature to measure heatstroke, and death can occur when body…

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