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The Toronto 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games Experience

12. Weather and Health Portfolio

Health and Air Quality Services is an umbrella activity of the MSC for the reporting and forecasting of weather-related health risks associated with air quality, heat, UV and others. Services developed under the umbrella are characterized by being driven by health stakeholders, prefaced on the objective of risk communications and often provided in support of those working to mitigate the impacts on the population most vulnerable to a specific health risk. A number of health and air quality projects were delivered in support of the Games, as described below.

12.1 Portfolio Approach

The intent of the Portfolio’s approach was to use the Games as a leveraged opportunity to launch the enhancement of existing MSC services and to showcase partnerships, technology and expertise that may lead towards future health and air quality services or support future considerations of MSC products and services.

The Portfolio exists within the Program (defined in this section as the health and air quality services program within the MSC), which maximized the inputs from science, monitoring, dissemination and modelling that supported the operations of the Games. Where possible, the Program sought to integrate activities to account for an all-hazards approach or to maximize efficiencies or opportunities (e.g., the numerical weather prediction urban-scale model output was made available to Public Health organizations [see Section 8.5.1]).

ECCC scientists wanted to obtain some indication of the value of those efforts from a stakeholder perspective. Towards those ends, we initiated a dialogue with our Public Health colleagues in the Games region in the spring of 2012 about our intent for the Games, and they provided input on our direction with specific elements of the Portfolio, specifically the user requirements for the Weather Health Information System for Decision Optimization and Management (WISDOM) portal.

Finally, the elements of the Program served as an umbrella for, in many instances, opportunistic activities adopted, co-opted or even adapted to support testing future health service directions of the MSC. The effort required to execute these activities ranged from the launch of a new service, multiple partner coordination and significant public profile to others. The common element for all of these was the objective of gaining a greater understanding of mechanisms and approaches to reduce societal health risks associated with weather.

12.1.1 The Power of Partnerships

The Games Portfolio was accomplished through relationships. Its final complement of activities was largely a process that often naturally happened as the Program approached colleagues and partners in the health and science community. The Program leveraged significant investment and in-kind support of many internal and external organizations in support of the Portfolio’s agenda. Internal partners included representation from a number of divisions within ECCC. External partners included Health Canada, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Public Health Ontario, various Public Health Units, the University of Toronto and York University, the Ontario Association for Geographic and Environmental Education, the Ontario Sun Safety Working Group, and Esri Canada Education Group. Without the involvement and enthusiasm of these partners, this activity would have been a shadow of its final outcome.

12.1.2 Evaluation

Finally, in conjunction with our goals and our commitment to stakeholders, we wanted to evaluate the success of executing the Portfolio. From an evaluation perspective, we kept the objective quite simple: Did the execution of the Portfolio from the 2015 Games project improve the MSC Program relationship with external stakeholders? While the program is still collecting specifics for the evaluation, there is anecdotal evidence that this has been accomplished.

12.1.3 Weather and Health Portfolio Themes and Activities

The Portfolio was comprehensive and extensive. Its scope was commensurate with that of the Program. Themes and activities within the Portfolio are shown in Table 2, with discussion on many of the activities provided in sections 12.2 and 12.3. Information on the science or modelling behind heat, air quality and UV is covered in other areas of this report (see sections 8.5.1, 8.5.3 and 11.5).

Table 2. 2015 Games Weather and Health Portfolio themes and activities
(bold activities are linked to ECCC’s forecast operations and services)
Air Quality
  • Increase number of AQHI locations and provision of hourly forecasting for all locations and communities
  • Enhance AQHI model resolution (GEM-MACH 2.5 km)
  • Firework: forest fire smoke modelling maps
  • Air Sensors for Chemicals in the Environment (AirSENCE)
  • Near Roadside Ultrafine Monitoring Study
  • Web-based mapping for traffic related air pollution and route planning
  • AQHI implementation in Ontario (driven by the Games)
  • Multi-parameter weather monitoring network (Mesonet)
  • Urban-scale heat, humidity and stress indices predictions
  • Urban Heat Island/Population vulnerability mapping
  • Implementation of new health-based-criteria for Heat Warnings
  • Enhanced and geospatially presented UV forecasts
  • Investigation of cost-effective real-time UV monitors
  • Pilot warning with health stakeholders
  • OAGEE Pan Am Summer Institute on Weather and Health
Decision Support
  • Heat Alert and Response Table Top Exercise
  • Weather Health Information System for Decision Optimization and Management (WISDOM)

12.2 Service Enhancement

The Games provided an opportunity for ECCC to operationalize new programs and enhance the service of others. Program staff began working with the stakeholders and internal processes/approval bodies early in the timeline to ensure that these services could be extended. These were all presented to the public and supported 24/7. None of these activities would have been possible without the support and the dedication of the ECCC forecasters and Warning Preparedness Meteorologists.

12.2.1 Air Quality Health Index

The AQHI is a communications tool that provides the health risk associated with the air that we breathe in our communities. The tool was developed collaboratively with Health Canada, the provinces, territories, local Public Health Units and media. The AQHI is given on a 1–10 scale, a similar concept to the use of scales for the UV index. In addition to observed AQHI values, forecasts for future conditions are provided with prescriptive health messaging to assist people in taking actions for reducing exposure to short-term air pollution.

The original AQHI program was announced in Toronto in the summer of 2007 as a pilot with the Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto. The Games provided the impetus to expand the coverage of the AQHI program prior to the Games and its eventual implementation for the summer of 2015, as well as to publicly test new forecast and reporting enhancements.

Working with the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, ECCC and Health Canada were able to develop a phased approach for the Program starting in advance of the Games. This resulted in a partnership between the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change and ECCC in issuing forecasts for the initial implementation, with meteorologists then assuming the role for AQHI forecasting early in 2015. The Ontario implementation was also unique in using a special derivative of the AQHI that accounts for health concerns associated with high concentrations of ground-level ozone (O3). Ontario was the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement an AQHI warning service that could be triggered by this special consideration for high ozone concentrations.

During the Games, the Program tested the operationalization of a one-hour forecast product and the provision of site and community-based approaches to large urban centres (community or site-averaged AQHI values have been the norm for simplified communications in instances where there are multiple air quality monitors within a jurisdiction). Two additional AQHI reporting and forecasting locations were also installed for the Games, one at York University and the second at one of the new near roadside air quality monitoring sites at Hanlan’s Point (on Toronto Centre Island). The OSPC provided one-hour AQHI forecasting for all of the existing and new locations starting in early July, prior to the Pan Am Games, and suspended the service in August following the termination of the Parapan Am Games. A description of the enhanced Program for the Air Quality Health Index was available to the public on ECCC’s websites. 

The response to the enhanced AQHI on the ECCC weather website indicated increased public interest in the enhanced program, including significant visitor use of the AQHI stations and the new hourly forecasts.

The lessons learned from this experience have resulted in an ambitious implementation of a nationwide rollout of the one-hour AQHI forecast program in early 2016, reversion of the air quality service back to Games levels in early 2016, and enhanced negotiations with other provincial partners on the timing and specifics around AQHI site reporting. The provision of the site forecasting was supported by the availability of the high-resolution air quality model, which is detailed in Section 8.5.3.

Figure 33. The enhanced Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) program included the addition of new air quality forecasts for the AQHI stations in Toronto and Hamilton

Map of south-central Ontario (see long description below)


Map of south-central Ontario showing the location of eight enhanced Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) stations in Toronto and Hamilton (indicated by red squares): York University, Toronto North, Toronto West, Toronto East, Toronto Downtown, Toronto Island , Hamilton Downtown and Hamilton Mountain. The enhanced Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) program included the addition of new air quality forecasts for these stations. The ten AQHI stations (shown on the map by grey circles) included Barrie, Newmarket, Oshawa, Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, Oakville, Burlington, Hamilton and St. Catharines.

Figure 34.

Photo of the new air quality monitoring station at Hanlan's Point on Toronto Centre Island. The station provided readings for the enhanced AQHI for the Games.
Photo: © Tony Munoz

12.2.2 Heat Health Warnings

The Games provided an ideal opportunity to implement new impact-based triggers for heat warnings, which were developed through a multi-year collaboration of federal and provincial partners with Public Health Units. An analysis of health outcomes and corresponding temperature values led to the development of a multi-tiered (based on severity of the health risk), multi-regional warning map for the province of Ontario that served as the basis for a protocol drafted by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care for Public Health response unit response during the Games. The MSC also used the opportunity to implement a systematic early notification protocol, based on the above protocol, to provide early mobilization of the actors (Public Health Units, community health partners, etc.) involved in reducing the heat health risk, especially to those most vulnerable to those risks (e.g., the elderly and very young).

The new heat warnings and early notification service for all of Ontario was rolled out by ECCC in May 2015. The new heat warning regions in Ontario and heat warning criteria are provided in Figure 35.

Heat Warning RegionConditionDuration
Region 1*Tmax ≥ 31°C and Tmin ≥ 21°C
Humidex ≥ 42
2+ days
Region 2Tmax ≥ 31°C and Tmin ≥ 20°C
Humidex ≥ 40
2+ days
Region 3Tmax ≥ 29°C and Tmin ≥ 16°C
Humidex ≥ 36
2+ days

Figure 35. ECCC’s three Heat Warning Regions in Ontario and ECCC’s Heat Warning criteria

Map of Ontario (see long description below)


Map showing Environment and Climate Change Canada’s three Heat Warning Regions in Ontario: Region 1 in extreme southwestern Ontario, Region 2 encompassing southern, eastern and central Ontario and Region 3 in northern Ontario. The MSC Public Forecast Regions are outlined on the map as are the regions encompassing the Ontario Public Health Units. The table below the map shows the Heat Warning conditions (maximum and minimum temperatures or humidex) and their duration that define the Heat Warning criteria for each of the three regions. Region 1: Maximum temperature greater than or equal to 31°C and minimum temperature greater than or equal to 21°C for 2 or more days OR humidex greater than or equal to 42. Region 2: Maximum temperature greater than or equal to 31°C and minimum temperature greater than or equal to 20°C for 2 or more days OR humidex greater than or equal to 40. Region 3. Maximum temperature greater than or equal to 29°C and minimum temperature greater than or equal to 16°C for 2 or more days OR humidex greater than or equal to 36.

* Tmax represents maximum daily temperature. Tmin represents minimum nighttime temperature.

A post-Games meeting with the stakeholders (in late November 2015) confirmed the anecdotal feedback during the Games that the early notification service and the warnings significantly supported the health units in the Games area (and the multiple other early adopters) with the client-based prediction and broad dissemination necessary to support their heat health mitigation response. The lessons learned from summer 2015 will guide further fine-tuning of MSC service in support of the Ontario province-wide implementation of the Heat Alert and Response System (HARS) program, which will be implemented in the spring of 2016, as well as MSC’s involvement with the Province of Alberta in implementing a similar service for the same time frame.

12.3 Demonstration Projects

These were activities with ECCC and its partners, which were undertaken to demonstrate partnerships, science and monitoring technology. A sample of some of these activities is presented in sections 12.3.1 to 12.3.6 to show the breadth of the Portfolio.

12.3.1 Weather Health Information System for Decision Optimization and Management (WISDOM)

WISDOM was developed to provide a portal for weather information deemed to be of interest to the health sector in decision making around the Games. To accomplish this in a cost-effective manner, the WISDOM GIS-based application was built within the Public Health Information Management System of Kingston Frontenac Lennox and Addington Public Health over a two-year period. The WISDOM portal was password protected and made available to select users starting in fall 2014. It was used by Toronto Public Health in winter 2015 to monitor their cold response plans.

WISDOM was used as a portal for MSC dynamic data of a geospatial operational nature. For example, some of the data available were:

  • Real-time ECCC hourly Mesonet meteorological data (e.g., temperatures), including data from the existing network (e.g., airports);
  • Current operational and high-resolution experimental Urban Scale NWP model output (showing standard meteorological variables as well as experimental products such as heat risk indices);
  • AQHI real-time readings and forecasts for sites as well as experimental high-resolution Air Quality GEM-MACH 2.5 model output;
  • Radar imagery;
  • Firework smoke model for Canada, if needed, to determine the risk of forest fires in other parts of Canada on the Games;
  • UV real-time observations and four-day UV model forecasts; and
  • All MSC-issued alerts.

WISDOM also provided access to geospatial static data in layers. Each layer provided a visual representation of specific data to indicate types of vulnerability (e.g., indices to show social, material and economic deprivation, population demographics). These layers could be viewed individually or in groups to support decision making.

During the first week of July, 2015 WISDOM was used as a visualization tool for a “Summer Institute” for Grades 7–12 Ontario Geography and Science Teachers, an event co-sponsored by MSC along with the OAGEE, The Toronto District School Board, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and Esri Canada.

The WISDOM portal would not have been possible without much of this real-time and predictive data being available in a format that could be readily incorporated into the GIS-friendly formats. There have been many lessons learned from using WISDOM as a portal for visualizing both dynamic and static information. From these lessons, the MSC will better visualize forecast elements over the basic canvas of geospatial information.

12.3.2 Near Roadside Air Quality Monitoring

The Near Roadside Monitoring Project is a world-class, multi-agency monitoring study conceived to: evaluate and characterize the excess air pollution generated near major roadways; identify and understand the factors that contribute to the concentrations of traffic-related air pollutants; and to provide the data/experience to develop a national near roadside monitoring program. It involves the examination of air quality measurements from paired background and near roadside monitoring sites in Vancouver and Toronto. The study supported the reporting of the two background locations in Toronto (more representative of community levels of air pollution) as part of the enhanced AQHI reporting during the Games. There are four Toronto near road monitoring sites with study partners that include ECCC, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC), and the University of Toronto. The intent is to expand the near road monitoring to Canadian cities with a population of at least 1 million by 2020. Figure 36 shows a near roadside monitoring station in Toronto, located beside major Highway 401.

Figure 36.

Photo of a near roadside monitoring station near Highway 401 in Toronto (photo used with the permission of Ministry of Environment and Climate Change).
Photo: © Tony Munoz

12.3.3 The AirSENCE Air Quality Monitoring Network

AirSENCE air quality monitoring devices estimate the concentrations of common urban air pollutants including ozone (O3), nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter (PM). Real-time measurements are made and transmitted several times each minute to a central server, where they are converted to pollutant concentrations that can be viewed live through the Internet. The devices are being designed by a group of chemical engineers and chemists at the University of Toronto. The Health and Air Quality Services Program endorsed AirSENCE in the autumn of 2013, purchased sensor technology during its development and supported siting the sensors for the Games.

In summer 2015, a network of 10 prototype devices was deployed at sites across Toronto in conjunction with the Games. The sites were selected based on their proximity to Games-related events. The testing period started in mid-June and lasted until the end of August 2015. The primary goal of the study was to test the performance of the AirSENCE devices in the field (see Figure 37).

Figure 37. An AirSENCE device on the University of Toronto downtown campus

Photos of an AirSENCE (see long description below)


Two photos of an AirSENCE device on the University of Toronto downtown campus, showing the instrument’s inner components (upper left, upper right), photos: © Natalia Mykhaylova. The AirSENCE devices measured air pollution at several locations in the Games area. The map (below) is from the AirSensors website and shows the concentration of nitrogen oxides (NOx), in parts per billion, at Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) and AirSENCE sensor locations (photos and map used with the permission of MOECC). Values range from a low of 7 near Lake Ontario in Toronto to a maximum of 44 near Highways 401 and 400 in northwestern Toronto.

A secondary goal related to communicating air quality information. For this, a publicly accessible website was developed to communicate real-time estimates of local air quality. Additional values from the provincial Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change air quality monitoring stations were also provided. Colour-coordinated estimates of the AQHI were posted along with estimates of individual pollutants. The interactive website also allowed users to see the contribution of individual pollutants to the AQHI, and to easily compare recent pollutant concentrations at different locations across the GTA. This website attracted considerable media interest, resulting in coverage by CTV News, Metro News, Metroland News and the University of Toronto website.

The study revealed design limitations in the devices, including their vulnerability to heavy rain and voltage spikes. Issues of calibration drift were also observed over time. Online data processing strategies were developed to partially address the drift issue. The lessons learned from this study are being incorporated into the design of the next generation version 3.0 of the device. These devices will be tested in Beijing, China, next year through a partnership with Airborne Underwater Geophysical (AUG) Signals and Peking University.

12.3.4 Urban Heat Island Decision Support for Heat Alerts and Response Systems

Urban heat islands are a product of our built environment (see sections 8.5.1 and 8.5.3), and their impacts are expected to increase with climate change. Urban heat island effects are particularly important in the highly urbanized area of southern Ontario. A tool was subsequently developed to be used within the WISDOM platform to support decisions around heat warnings. This tool displays the typical hourly thermal patterns over the GTA during both daytime and nighttime. This is the first time that such high-resolution comprehensive temperature information has been available to Public Health Units.

The objective was to map the hourly spatio-temporal evolution of the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect in the GTA during a typical summer heat spell, using air temperatures from the Mesonet and interpolation (i.e., data smoothing) methods that also used geographical layers of surface characteristics. Results indicate a strong lake-breeze effect from Lake Ontario, which is a result of large land-lake temperature differences during these cases. This is evident from Figure 38, which shows air temperature variability over the GTA during a July heat wave in the afternoon (1:00 p.m.) and night (11:00 p.m.). During the day, the lake breeze has penetrated inland (dashed arrow), giving cooler temperatures near the lake but higher temperatures further inland, reflecting the additional warming associated with the urban heat island effect. At night, the lake breeze shifts to a breeze from the land to the lake (i.e., land breeze). The warmer temperatures are advected towards the shore of Lake Ontario, while the additional warming associated with the urban environment maintains the higher temperatures shown over the City of Toronto. This type of detailed temperature information enabled health authorities during the Games to better target heat-vulnerable areas.

Figure 38. Interpolated observational air temperature fields during a heat wave in the GTA

Maps of the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area (see long description below)


Two maps of the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area of southern Ontario showing interpolated observational air temperature fields at 1:00 p.m. local time (left) and 11:00 p.m. local time (right) during a heat wave in the Greater Toronto Area. The highest temperatures (shown in red) are over parts of the City of Toronto. At 1 p.m., cooler temperatures (shown in blue) are near Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and over some rural areas. At 11 PM, the lowest temperatures are observed primarily over rural areas.

This tool provided a framework for health authorities to facilitate local interventions during extreme heat events in order to better target vulnerable areas. It also supported the further assessment of how representative airport temperatures are for issuance of heat warnings.

12.3.5 Testing of Real-time UV Sensor and Enhanced Modelling

The MSC currently issues automated UV forecasts. The Games provided an ideal opportunity to investigate the means to significantly improve that UV service using a pseudo-AQHI approach of providing real-time information and enhanced forecasting to support decision making.

Four new UV sensors (as described in Section 5.6) were validated against the Brewer instrument, which is considered to be the “gold standard” for UV measurement. The new sensors were subsequently deployed in four locations in the GTA, providing the best spatial coverage to report hourly changes in UV and validating the new UV model (see Section 11.5). The real-time UV measurements and modelled UV future conditions were made available through the WISDOM platform, which allowed partners of the Ontario Sun Safety Working Group (OSSWG) to support their clients in taking protective measures against UV rays.

The OSSWG were very interested in the three new UV products that were available for the Games. Scientists are now analyzing the results from the demonstration product. When these results become available, Program principals will share them with the OSSWG to obtain their impressions of the service demonstration offered over the Games period. Plans are under way to leave the new UV instrumentation in place so that further validation of the model can be made.

12.3.6 Weather and Health Service Dissemination

The Games provided an opportunity to integrate weather and health themes into public dissemination pathways, which are being pioneered by internal and external partners. In addition to being a data contributor to the Ocean Networks website and guiding development of an early notification service for heat to the Public Health partners, the Weather and Health Program also situated select service enhancement and demonstration activities to test burgeoning MSC capability. The Program tested the issuance of a stakeholder product that would push an email to them when a predefined level of risk for UV or AQHI was reached. The Program also integrated new operational thresholds for heat warnings and Smog and Air Health Advisories/Special Air Quality Statements into public offerings.

In addition, Weather and Health Services was actively involved in the planning and execution of the Health Canada–funded, Toronto Public Health–executed “Weather Active” smart phone application. Throughout the summer, the application pulled relevant meteorological and air quality real-time forecasts and warnings for display in the smart phone application. The application was decommissioned in late October 2015, as it had been funded as a demonstration activity for the Games and to gather lessons learned on how to effectively disseminate and integrate the risk associated with heat and air quality. The Weather Active application won an award from the City of Toronto.

12.4 Weather and Health Legacy

In conjunction with our goals and commitment to stakeholders, ECCC wanted to evaluate the success of executing the Portfolio. From an evaluation perspective, the objective was quite simple: Did the execution of the Portfolio from the Games project improve the MSC Program relationship with external stakeholders? While the Program is still collecting specifics for the evaluation, there is anecdotal evidence that this has been accomplished.

As with the evaluation, the legacy of the Portfolio is either being determined or is unfolding, making its presence known in the months and years to come.

By way of legacy for the Program, the new AQHI services will be rolled out nationally within ECCC based on capacity to execute and access metrics. EC Alert Me (see Section 9.6) was found to be a successful platform to test new AQHI service offerings such as the Smog and Air Health Advisory and the AQHI push messaging based on user-identified levels. More legacy items will be realized as time passes.

By way of intangibles, the Portfolio allowed the Program to showcase its activities internally as well as to science education, dissemination and other groups on its service areas of interest. Partnerships with the health (and education) community in the Games area have been strengthened; they are more aware of our business, our data, our capabilities and our commitment to support their decision making.

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