New Guidance on Selection of Appropriate Thermal Indices for Applications in Human Biometeorological Studies

Application of thermal indices has become very popular over the last three decades. It is mostly aimed at urban areas and is also used in weather forecasting, especially for heat health warning systems. Recent studies also show the relevance of thermal indices and their justification for thermal perception. Only twelve out of 165 indices of human thermal perception are classified to be principally suitable for the human biometeorological evaluation of climate for urban and regional planning: this requests that the thermal indices provide an equivalent air temperature of an isothermal reference with minor wind velocity. 

Furthermore, thermal indices must be traceable to complete human energy budget models consisting of both a controlled passive system (heat transfer between body and environment) and a controlling active system, which provides a positive feedback on temperature deviations from neutral conditions of the body core and skin as it is the case in nature. Seven out of the twelve indices are fully suitable, of which three overlap with the others. 

In this new study, which was recently published in the Journal 'Atmosphere' and undertaken by German Meteorological Office, and German Research Centre for Human Biometeorology,  the following four indices were selected as appropriate: Universal Thermal Climate Index (UTCI), Perceived Temperature (PTJ ), Physiologically Equivalent Temperature (PET), and rational Standard Effective Temperature (SET*). 

It is hoped that increased harmonization of indices for exposure studies will create a more accurate and robust analysis of the health impacts of heat, which is a growing problem in the face of warming climates and increasing urbanization. 

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Keywords: thermal indices; human energy balance; UTCI; PET; SET*; PT; application