The Role of Mesoscale-Convective Processes in Explaining the 21 November 2016 Epidemic Thunderstorm Asthma Event in Melbourne, Australia
AbstractA major thunderstorm asthma epidemic struck Melbourne and surrounding Victoria, Australia, on 21 November 2016, which led to multiple deaths, a flood of residents seeking medical attention for respiratory problems, and an overwhelmed emergency management system. This case day had all the classic ingredients for an epidemic, including high rye grass pollen concentrations, a strong multicellular thunderstorm system moving across the region, and a large population of several million people in the vicinity of Melbourne. A particular characteristic of this event was the strong, gusty winds that likely spread the pollen grains and/or allergenic contents widely across the region to increase population exposure. This exploratory case study is the first to examine the usefulness of low-to-middle-atmospheric thermodynamic information for anticipating epidemic thunderstorm asthma outbreaks by allowing the forecast of strong downdraft winds. The authors investigated the utility of several mesoscale products derived from atmospheric soundings such as downdraft convective available potential energy (DCAPE) and indices for predicting surface wind gusts such as microburst wind speed potential index (MWPI) and a wind gust index (GUSTEX). These results indicate that DCAPE levels reached “high” to “very high” thresholds for strong downdraft winds in the lead-up to the thunderstorm, and the MWPI and GUSTEX indices accurately predicted the high maximum surface wind observations. This information may be useful for diagnostic and prognostic assessment of epidemic thunderstorm asthma and in providing an early warning to health practitioners, emergency management officials, and residents in affected areas.
Publication Source (Journal or Book title)
Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology
Grundstein, A., Shepherd, M., Miller, P., & Sarnat, S. E. (2017). The Role of Mesoscale-Convective Processes in Explaining the 21 November 2016 Epidemic Thunderstorm Asthma Event in Melbourne, Australia. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 56 (5), 1337-1343. https://doi.org/10.1175/jamc-d-17-0027.1