A Late Spring Heat Wave in NYC

Temperatures have been soaring in the northeastern United States.  In fact, it feels like mid-summer and the start of that season is still more than two weeks away.

In New York City, temperatures reached 90°F for three consecutive days.  This marks the city’s first official heat wave of the season.  Our normal high for this time of year is a more moderate 75°F. This extreme heat also caused a number health concerns, including air quality alerts.

The dramatic rise in temperature across the region was the result of a Bermuda High – an area of high pressure that steers hot air from the Gulf of Mexico toward the northeast.  The summer-like conditions of this weather pattern, however, are expected to come to a stormy end late tonight as a cold front moves into the area.

State of the Air 2013

Are you concerned about the quality of the air you breathe?  Air pollution, a by-product of our industrial age, is an ongoing problem in many parts of the United States.

According to the American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air Report, released yesterday, 42% of Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of particle and ozone pollution. Particle pollution comes from a variety of sources, but chief among them are industrial emissions and vehicle exhaust.  When these emissions react with the U.V. light of the sun, they form ground level ozone. In addition to contributing to climate change, both of these pollutants are known to have serious negative impacts on human health.  They especially affect individuals suffering from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

In spite of these current pollution challenges, the report also highlights the success of the Clean Air Act and the fact that our nation’s air, overall, is cleaner now than it has been in the past.

Click here to see where your county’s air quality ranks.

Weather and Health: Air Quality

An air quality alert is in effect for the New York City area today.  This means our local outdoor air contains elevated levels of pollutants.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is responsible for monitoring air pollution across the United States.  Calculated on the Air Quality Index (AQI), a standardized indicator, the agency’s daily reports focus on the health effects people may suffer as a result of breathing polluted air. Its scale runs from 0-500 with values above 100 considered to be unhealthy.  Increasing AQI values correlate to higher levels of pollution and an escalating risk to public health.

The five major air pollutants measured on the AQI are, ground level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. These pollutants often build to unsafe concentrations when local weather patterns allow air to become stagnant from a lack of wind.

The AQI value in New York City today is 105, which references a spike in ground level ozone.  This degree of pollution will mainly impact people with pre-existing respiratory conditions.

Chart Credit: NOAA