Featured News

Red Tide Respiratory Forecast is Now Operational

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Posted: August 9, 2021
Category: Featured News

The Red Tide Respiratory Forecast — part of a suite of NOAA toolsfocused on predicting the movements and impacts of harmful algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico — has moved from “experimental” to “operational” or “sustained.”

That means the Forecast, developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NOAA-NCCOS) in partnership with the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS), the state of Florida and others, is now fully supported and available to the public.

 

The Red Tide Respiratory Forecast provides a near real-time prediction of whether beachgoers can expect red tide conditions on individual beaches at three-hour increments throughout the day. This risk-level forecast for red tide respiratory impacts covers about 30 of Florida’s west coast beaches, along with beaches in Texas.

The forecast is provided as part of the NOAA-NCCOS nationwide Harmful Algal Bloom Forecasting System, which alerts coastal resource managers and the public with information about toxic algal blooms to help lessen their impacts on local communities. In addition to the Gulf of Mexico, other regional forecasts cover Lake Erie, which is operational, and the Gulf of Maine, the Pacific Northwest and California, which are running in demonstration mode.

Red Tide Impacts

Red tides in the Gulf of Mexico are caused by Karenia brevis, which has toxins that can be harmful to humans. Most people experience red tide toxins as minor respiratory irritation — coughing, sneezing, teary eyes and an itchy throat. Typically, these symptoms go away when they leave the beach.

But people with chronic lung problems like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can have more severe reactions when they breathe in air-borne red tide toxins — even ending up in the emergency room. Health officials advise these people to avoid areas experiencing red tide altogether, take all medications as prescribed and have access to rescue inhalers. People with chronic lung disease should leave the beach if they begin experiencing respiratory problems, even if red tide is at very low or low concentrations.

“Red tide impacts can be really variable because of wind patterns,” said Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, Executive Director of GCOOS and an environmental health scientist who conducted the first studies documenting the impacts of Florida red tide blooms on human health. “There are very few days when all beaches will be affected by red tide, and often your favorite beach is only affected for part of the day. The Red Tide Respiratory Forecast lets people see which beaches might be impacted by red tide and at what time of the day, allowing them to plan beach walks and other outdoor activities accordingly. They can use this tool the same way they use other weather reports.”

In 2004, NOAA-NCCOS and partners started issuing twice-weekly condition reports and bulletins that identified the risk of respiratory irritation for three-to-four-day periods on a county-by-county level. The information was then released through the National Weather Service’s regular Beach Hazard Statement alerts. Today, the Red Tide Respiratory Forecast builds on these condition reports and bulletins by providing information at a finer scale — at the beach level, not just the county level.

“We’ve been able to refine our forecasts and offer predictions on a beach-by-beach basis,” said Dr. Richard Stumpf, NOAA-NCCOS Oceanographer who led the forecast development team. “This Forecast is the first step toward reducing the health and economic impacts of red tides for coastal communities. By letting people know where and when onshore respiratory impacts are expected, red tide becomes more of an inconvenience than a crisis.”

Volunteer Karl Kaukis of Port Charlotte, Florida, uses a HABscope to read a water sample. HABscope is low-cost portable microscope system developed by GCOOS that uses AI and other technologies to automatically detect the presence of Karenia brevis, the organism that causes red tides in the Gulf of Mexico. GCOOS works with a team of volunteers like Kaukis to help gather the data needed to develop the Red Tide Respiratory Forecast. Team members are activated when red tides are occurring in Florida and in Texas. Photo copyright GCOOS.

Funding and Development

The Forecast was initially developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science in partnership with GCOOS, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWC-FWRI) and Pinellas County Environmental Management. The forecast was developed through funding from the NASA Health and Air Quality Program. Additional funding has been provided by NOAA-NCCOS through the multi-year “Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Bloom (MERHAB)” program as part of a nationwide effort to improve monitoring of and response to harmful algal blooms (HABs) along U.S. coasts and the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS).

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