Air Quality Forecasts

by Phil Hysell

When most people think about the weather forecasts produced by the National Weather Service, they likely think of forecasts for temperatures, wind, sky conditions, and chances of precipitation. So, it may come as a surprise to learn that NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have entered into a partnership to make full use of their respective capabilities and authorities in developing a national air quality forecast (AQF) system. The goal of this partnership is to provide ozone, particulate matter, and other pollutant forecasts with enough accuracy and advance notice for people to take action to prevent or limit harmful effects from poor air quality.

 

State and local air quality agencies, as well as the private sector, are also essential partners in the national AQF Air quality monitoring network: EPA’s national inventory of emissions data. EPA, through its relationships with state and local air quality agencies, collects air quality monitoring data and provides it to NOAA. NOAA incorporates these data and NOAA weather observations into operational AQF models developed concentration fields. State and local agencies use this guidance to issue air quality forecasts and Air Quality Index predictions in their jurisdictions. EPA nationally distributes this information from state and local air quality forecast agencies. The private sector uses and disseminates this information to the public as well.

 

You can view air quality forecast guidance by visiting here. The official air quality forecast for the Roanoke area is relayed to our office from the Virginia Division of Environmental Quality (VDEQ), and is aired on the Roanoke NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio transmitter (162.475 mhz) each afternoon. This air quality forecast can also be found at www.airnow.gov. So now that we know where to find the air quality forecast, how do I make sense of the numbers provided? The forecast uses the Air Quality Index, or AQI, to measure the quality of air in our area. The AQI is a measurement of air quality that is calculated from ozone and fine particle pollution measurements over the past few hours. A higher AQI indicates a higher level of air pollution, and consequently, a greater potential for health problems.

 

0-50

Green

Good air quality. Little or no health risk.

51-100

Yellow

Moderate air quality. People who are unusually sensitive to air pollution may be mildly affected.

101-150

Orange

Unhealthy for sensitive groups. These groups may experience health problems due to air pollution.

151-200

Red

Unhealthy. The general public may experience mild health effects. Sensitive groups may have more serious health problems.

201-300

Purple

Very unhealthy. Everyone is susceptible to more serious health problems.

Here are simple things you can do to protect yourself and keep pollutant levels low: (taken from the VDEQ web page)
• Be aware. Keep an eye on the pollutant levels and forecasts for your area.
• When levels are high, stay inside if you can. Avoid strenuous outdoor activity.
• Help keep pollutant levels low by avoiding unnecessary fuel consumption. Use carpools and fuel-efficient vehicles.
• Avoid the use of any other gasoline engines, such as mowers and other lawn equipment, or boat motors.
• Save power by turning off lights and appliances when they are not needed.
• Avoid burning yard debris or brush