NOAA/EPA extends reach of air quality forecasts

Air quality forecasts produced by NOAA's National Weather Service and EPA have been enhanced and expanded to better serve more regions of the United States.

Forecast information for ground-level ozone that has been available for the northeastern United States will now include areas from just east of the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Hour-by-hour forecasts, through midnight the following day, are available online, providing information for the onset, severity and duration of poor air quality to more than 180 million people.

"Poor air quality concerns us all -- whether living in a city or in the country. Pollutants can originate nearby or can be carried many miles from their sources," said Brig. Gen. David L. Johnson, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), director of NOAA's National Weather Service.

"This tool will help improve ozone air quality forecasts and that can make a real difference in people's lives, especially children and people with asthma or other respiratory problems," said Jeff Holmstead, EPA's assistant administrator for air and radiation.

"State and local air quality forecasters use this information as another tool in issuing next-day alerts for poor air quality to more than 300 communities," said Paula Davidson, program manager for air quality forecasting with NOAA's National Weather Service. "The new experimental guidance for the South and Plains will enable state and local agencies from thirteen additional states to issue enhanced and more geographically specific ozone-based air quality warnings to the public."

New to these air quality forecasts are enhancements in output data availability and updated pollutant emissions data as well as improved forecast algorithms. The capability provides information for urban and rural communities alike, with a 12 kilometer grid resolution.

Forecast guidance for states in the South and Plains will be available as experimental products for several months during real-time testing and evaluation before being added to the full suite of National Weather Service operational products. Air quality forecasts for the northeastern United States were deployed into operation in September 2004. These expanded forecasts are the next step toward providing air quality forecast information nationwide, commissioned by Senator Judd Gregg, to help protect people at risk from poor air quality.

The air quality forecast capability is built by a team of NOAA and EPA scientists that develop, test, and operationally implement improvements in the science of air quality forecasting for real-time predictions. NOAA's National Weather Service forecast models are used to drive simulations of atmospheric chemical conditions using pollutant emissions and monitoring data provided by EPA. Twice daily, supercomputers operated by NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction produce ground-level ozone forecasts available on National Weather Service and EPA data servers.

NOAA's National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. NOAA's National Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources.

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This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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