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Developing and Validating Heat Exposure Products Using the U.S. Climate Reference Network

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  • 1 North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies, North Carolina State University, Asheville, North Carolina
  • | 2 NOAA/National Centers for Environmental Information, Asheville, North Carolina
  • | 3 North Carolina State Climate Office, Raleigh, North Carolina
  • | 4 NOAA/Air Resources Laboratory, College Park, Maryland
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Abstract

Extreme heat is one of the most pressing climate risks in the United States and is exacerbated by a warming climate and aging population. Much work in heat health has focused only on temperature-based metrics, which do not fully measure the physiological impact of heat stress on the human body. The U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) consists of 139 sites across the United States and includes meteorological parameters that fully encompass human tolerance to heat, including relative humidity, wind, and solar radiation. Hourly and 5-min observations from USCRN are used to develop heat exposure products, including heat index (HI), apparent temperature (AT), and wet-bulb globe temperature (WBGT). Validation of this product is conducted with nearby airport and mesonet stations, with reanalysis data used to fill in data gaps. Using these derived heat products, two separate analyses are conducted. The first is based on standardized anomalies, which place current heat state in the context of a long-term climate record. In the second study, heat events are classified by time spent at various levels of severity of conditions. There is no consensus as to what defines a heat event, so a comparison of absolute thresholds (i.e., ≥30.0°, 35.0°, and 40.0°C) and relative thresholds (≥90th, 95th, and 98th percentile) will be examined. The efficacy of the product set will be studied using an extreme heat case study in the southeastern United States. While no heat exposure metric is deemed superior, each has their own advantages and caveats, especially in the context of public communication.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JAMC-D-20-0282.s1.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: J. Jared Rennie, jared@ncics.org

Abstract

Extreme heat is one of the most pressing climate risks in the United States and is exacerbated by a warming climate and aging population. Much work in heat health has focused only on temperature-based metrics, which do not fully measure the physiological impact of heat stress on the human body. The U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) consists of 139 sites across the United States and includes meteorological parameters that fully encompass human tolerance to heat, including relative humidity, wind, and solar radiation. Hourly and 5-min observations from USCRN are used to develop heat exposure products, including heat index (HI), apparent temperature (AT), and wet-bulb globe temperature (WBGT). Validation of this product is conducted with nearby airport and mesonet stations, with reanalysis data used to fill in data gaps. Using these derived heat products, two separate analyses are conducted. The first is based on standardized anomalies, which place current heat state in the context of a long-term climate record. In the second study, heat events are classified by time spent at various levels of severity of conditions. There is no consensus as to what defines a heat event, so a comparison of absolute thresholds (i.e., ≥30.0°, 35.0°, and 40.0°C) and relative thresholds (≥90th, 95th, and 98th percentile) will be examined. The efficacy of the product set will be studied using an extreme heat case study in the southeastern United States. While no heat exposure metric is deemed superior, each has their own advantages and caveats, especially in the context of public communication.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JAMC-D-20-0282.s1.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: J. Jared Rennie, jared@ncics.org

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