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Posted at 10:45 AM ET, 07/16/2008

Thunderstorms and Asthma: A New link

By Capital Weather Gang

Wx and the City

By Ann Posegate

If you're planning on exercising outdoors anytime soon, you may want to do so in the morning. For one, air quality (particulate and ozone levels) is worse in the evening hours, after building up from a day's worth of vehicle emissions. But thunderstorms are also more likely in the later part of the day (in fact, the forecast calls for a chance of some this weekend), and apparently they can do more harm than lightning strikes and property damage. According to a new study by a research team from the University of Georgia and Emory University, thunderstorms can also trigger asthma attacks.

Climatologists and epidemiologists teamed up for a 10-year study on emergency room visits in the Atlanta metro area -- the first of its kind to focus on the southern U.S. They found a 3 percent rise in asthma-related emergency room visits the day after thunderstorms. Though more research will be done as to the how's and why's of the relationship, it is believed that asthma attacks are triggered from pollen grains ruptured by heavy rain and airborne particles dispersed by high winds.

If you live in Atlanta, you might not want to pack your bags and move to D.C. just yet. We certainly have our share of thunderstorms and air pollution alerts during the summer, and more than 40,000 adults and 10,000 children in the District alone have asthma.

By Capital Weather Gang  | July 16, 2008; 10:45 AM ET
Categories:  Health, Posegate, Wx and the City  
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I sometimes have trouble sleeping after a storm, though I've tended to blame it on high humidity levels the first night after the storm.

There was some altocumulus this morning, though we aren't supposed to have a storm this afternoon. It also looks as though we're due for yet another rain-marred weekend.

Posted by: El Bombo | July 16, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

I've read that lightning strikes generate ozone. Couldn't the production of ozone from lightning strikes be additional factor in increased asthma attacks after thunderstorms?

Posted by: Eric | July 16, 2008 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Eric - great question. Scientists at NCAR have studied this, and it seems that the ozone produced is too high in the troposhere to affect ground-level concentrations. Read their FAQ here:

Posted by: Ann | July 16, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Very interesting. I've never heard before about the possible relationship of thunderstorms and asthma. I'll see if my doctor has (he's a nationally renowned allergist in DC.)

I've been suffering from unusually severe bouts of asthma this spring and summer. Some of it was probably my fault by not keeping up with meds. On the other hand I had equally severe asthma the summer of 2006 when I was diligent with medications.

Now here's the interesting part, I had no problems with asthma last summer. What's the difference? Two years ago and this summer have been very wet with lots of thunderstorms, but last year was very dry.

My allergist attributed this to mold during the wet years, but could it have been partly related to the frequency of thunderstorms??

I have had asthma since boyhood. My curiosity has been peaked to the point I just might go back and relate my medical records with thunderstorm occurrence (possible 60 year sample). Or, anyone interested in a neat science project - I'll provide the data.

Posted by: Steve Tracton, Capital Weather Gang | July 16, 2008 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Fascinating post! Steve, I too have asthma and have been MUCH worse this year but was better last year. My own rock-star allergist blames a combo of mold and suspended sulfuric acid droplets in wet years. I haven't missed a day of meds since I developed the asthma as a result of a bad virus in the 97-98 El Nino year. Unfortunately, I don't have data charting any fluctuations in my asthma...I just sense that it's worse during rainy days and wet years.

Posted by: ~sg | July 16, 2008 9:45 PM | Report abuse

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