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New York State Lowers the Heat Advisory Threshold

26 Jun 2018, 12:05 pm


With summer fully underway, New York State officially lowered the heat advisory threshold for alerting citizens statewide of the health impacts of upcoming heat waves due in part to NASA-supported research and satellite data.

On June 17, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York has lowered its heat advisory threshold from 100 degrees Fahrenheit to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, thanks to a partnership between the state Department of Health and the National Weather Service.  The change was based on research from a collaborative project between the Department of Health and NASA Earth Science’s Health and Air Quality Program that sought to determine when high temperatures started to negatively affect human health in New York State.

The state health research indicates that New Yorkers are not used to long periods of heat,” said Gary Holmes, spokesperson for the state Department of Health. “They may get sick at lower temperatures than people in traditionally hotter parts of the country.”

NASA Earth Science and its Applied Sciences Program promote efforts to discover innovative and practical uses for Earth science knowledge and data.  NASA funds applied research and applications projects that enable organizations to utilize data from Earth-observing satellites to inform their decisions and actions.

[NASA satellite data provide a more detailed measure of local temperature variations across geographic areas with ground-based weather monitors. This image shows the maximum air temperature across New York State estimated using temperature data products from the NASA-sponsored North American Land Data Assimilation System. Credits: New York State Department of Health]

“With this project that NASA has supported since 2015, health researchers use NASA satellite data to advance scientific knowledge about environmental health risks like high heat and then provide that information to guide public health applications,” said John Haynes, program manager for health and air quality in NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington.

NASA Earth Science data addressed the need for more complete information on heat health impacts at the state level. “We weren’t able to get a good estimate of the health effects of climate at a fine spatial scale from the sparse climate-monitoring data available across New York State,” said project principal investigator Tabassum Insaf, the acting research director at the state Department of Health’s Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Epidemiology.

Insaf turned to partners affiliated with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to use the NASA-sponsored North American Land Data Assimilation System (NLDAS) to fill the missing gaps. “This system gave us a uniform spatial surface to look at temperature data and associate it with health outcomes in our local areas,” said Insaf.

The NLDAS temperature data Insaf and her team reviewed were threshold values of maximum temperatures, average temperatures, minimum temperatures, and maximum heat index derived from satellite data.

[New York State on June 21, the first day of summer, as seen from NASA’s Terra satellite. State health officials lowered the heat advisory threshold for alerting citizens of the health impacts of heat waves based in part to NASA-supported research. Credits: NASA]

“We then looked at daily admissions and emergency department visits for a period of five years and we correlated that with the temperature data on the days that people experienced ailments such as heat stress, dehydration, respiratory and cardiovascular illness, and reduced renal function,” said Insaf.

The results showed that New York State’s threshold for alerting the public to extreme heat events needed updating. “Our research found that the health effects associated with temperature in our region actually occurred at lower temperatures than the National Weather Service criteria, which were based on studies in hotter areas of the U.S.,” Insaf explained. “We worked with the local National Weather Service—they have been great collaborators—and they were very receptive to our research.”

Neil Stuart, lead meteorologist for the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Albany, New York, added, “The criteria for heat-related advisories had been in place for over 20 years and was based on coordinating with partners regarding frequency of heat events.  Now we will be issuing heat-related advisories based on science-based temperature, health, and hospital-visit data… The [NLDAS] satellite data was vital to the study of temperature and apparent temperature data that supported the lowering of the Heat Advisory criteria.”

The project’s research has also led to the development of the state Department of Health’s County Heat and Health Profile Reports, which describe county-specific temperature trends, summarize heat-related health effects, identify areas with populations at highest vulnerability to heat, and list some available adaptation resources. “The County Heat and Health Profiles can help communities prepare for and prevent heat-related illness,” Holmes emphasized.

Edited for WeatherNation by Meteorologist Mace Michaels

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