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Exposure Research

EPA and NOAA scientists test tools' ability to forecast local ozone

Posted: August 31, 2010

Ground-level ozone is an air pollutant that can be harmful to breathe, and can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma, and can even damage crops, trees, and other vegetation.

When individuals in communities know what their ozone levels are, they can take steps to protect their health such as staying inside on high ozone days or car-pooling to reduce ozone levels. However, the expertise or capability to accurately forecast ozone concentrations may not be available to every town or city in the United States. This can mean that citizens are relying on ozone forecasts generated for locations and environmental conditions that are miles away. 

The National Air Quality Forecast Guidance Exit EPA Disclaimer is a publically-available set of ozone computing tools that can help with this situation. Collaboratively developed by scientists with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the guidance can aid staff in local agencies in making next-day forecasts of ozone concentrations for their communities.

The effectiveness of the guidance was recently evaluated by EPA and NOAA scientists by comparing the results generated via the guidance with real-world data and ozone forecasts developed using other statistical approaches.

Their findings indicate that the guidance can provide accurate, localized ozone forecasts, including ozone predictions for smaller cities and towns that are not covered by AirNow Exit EPA Disclaimer — a web-based clearinghouse that offers daily air quality index forecasts for approximately 300 of the largest metropolitan areas of the United States. The AirNow database was developed in 1998 by EPA, NOAA, Environment Canada, and the U.S. National Park Service along with state, local and tribal air agencies.

Now, using the National Air Quality Forecast Guidance, staff in local agencies — whether they be seasoned air quality veterans or forecasters with limited experience — should be able to develop accurate ozone forecasts for their communities. Furthermore, the guidance can be applied anywhere in the continental United States.

A summary of the evaluation along with a brief history of air quality research was recently published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (Eder, B., et al., "Using National Air Quality Forecast Guidance to develop local air quality index forecasts Exit EPA Disclaimer," Vol. 91, Issue 3, March 2010).

For more information visit Greenversations (EPA's blog): Breathing new life into air quality forecasting in towns big and small

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