NOAA 2001-R268
Contact: John Leslie


Broiling summer temperatures are as legendary in New Orleans as jazz music, but the National Weather Service, an agency of the Commerce Department'ss NOAA is testing a new heat forecasting and warning system that may lessen the toll of heat-related deaths in the city.

At a press conference today at the New Orleans Municipal Training Center, officials from the weather service and the University of Delaware outlined the goal of the test, which runs through Sept. 30. The test, called the Operational Heat Stress Assessment System for Metropolitan New Orleans, is designed to improve forecasting dangerous heat conditions and issuing early heat warnings to the public.

"Before a potentially deadly heat wave arrives, we must have a reliable and accurate early warning system for emergency managers, the healthcare community and the public," said Bill Proenza, director of the weather service for the southern U.S. "This test underscores the willingness of our forecasters to provide more life-saving services to the public."

Under the OHSAS test, the New Orleans forecast office will continue to issue "heat outlooks" for heat conditions over a 48 to 72-hour period, "heat watches" for 24 to 48-hour periods and "heat advisories" and "excessive heat warnings" for conditions within 24 hours. The OHSAS test adds more focus to forecasting air masses that have historically led to increased summer mortality in the New Orleans area.

In New Orleans, summer brings three kinds of air masses – a moist tropical mass, which dominates most of the time; a second, more oppressive moist air mass, which occurs on average 13 percent of the summer, and a rare super-oppressive air mass, which accounts for nearly four additional fatalities each day, according to University of Delaware researchers.

The OHSAS program is based on the research of Laurence S. Kalkstein, associate director of the Center for Climatic Research at the University of Delaware.
Similar projects have been conducted in Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, Philadelphia, Rome and Shanghai.

"This new plan takes a more proactive approach to forecasting," said Kalkstein. "Utilizing more scientific criteria than in the past allows for a higher degree of confidence and permits local health departments to develop intervention plans more efficiently. This will result in less harm to at-risk populations."

After concluding the test on Sept. 30, the weather service will evaluate the test results and decide whether to implement OHSAS permanently in New Orleans.