It is a well-known fact that weather can influence various aspects of our everyday lives, including physical and mental health, productivity, performance, social behavior, etc. Sometimes, the connection between weather and health is direct and obvious. For instance, extreme temperature fluctuations have been shown to affect our immune systems, and the quality of air is directly linked to asthma and allergies. More than often, however, the weather and health effects are peculiar and more subtle. The heat, for example, has been linked to aggression and violence. Certain kinds of wind have been shown to negatively affect human behavior and psyche (e.g., the foehn in Swiss Alps, or khamsin in the Middle East). A lot of people (including myself) report sleeping better at nights when it rains or snows. I personally tend to experience mild depression on cloudy and rainy days, while plenty of sunshine usually affects my mood positively. Naturally, the only way to see if any particular weather aspect actually affects your life, and to what extent would be to include it in your self-tracking routine, and then analyze the hypothesized patterns. Lately, I have been looking into the easiest and most effective ways to incorporate weather data into my tracking logs.
NOTE: this post was originally published on this blog in October 2012. I am unarchiving and reposting it as a part of the Measured Me 2.0 initiative. You may see comments that date back to the time of the original posts.
The Easiest Way to Track Weather
The easiest way to track weather on a regular basis is not to track it at all but rather download it from some external source and append to your log. But where would you get all that information?
The ideal tool or source for weather tracking, in my opinion, should meet the following criteria:
- All weather data points are found in one place
- Weather data can be obtained for more than one location (e.g., home are vs. work area)
- Data is free
- Instead of manually copying records every day, you could just download historical data and append it to your log.
Alas, I have not found yet a site or a tool that would meet all four criteria. There is, however, a great resource that almost meets the first three requirements. The http://www.wunderground.com is indeed a “wunder” source where you can find most of the weather data points for free. The Wunderground reports current weather for pretty much any location in the world, and covers the following weather aspects:
- Temperature, both actual and “feels like“
- Heat index
- Atmospheric pressure
- Wind speed and direction (North, etc.)
- Presence of clouds (% of sky covered)
- UV index
- Chances of precipitation (%)
- Actual precipitation (rainfall, snow), fallout in inches
- Pollen (12-point scale)
- Quality of air (PM2.5 scale)
- Ozone (5-point scale)
The current day weather is reported on a 3-hour basis (click on View Detailed Hourly Forecast). Unfortunately, there is no way to download current report so it has to be manually copied from the website (you can also copy the table from the web, paste it into Excel, and then format it there). However, you can go to the History Data section and download hourly data in a comma-separated-values format (Excel) at the end of the day. It will have fewer details (only temperature, humidity, pressure, wind direction/speed, and precipitation). The same History Data tool can be used to download daily data in a comma-separated-values format for the past week, month, or a given period:
You may also look into local alternatives to Wunderground. For example, if you live in New York, you may check out CNY weather. It covers fewer data points (temperature, barometric pressure, precipitation, wind speed, sunshine hours), but data is presented in a table which can be easily copied and pasted into Excel.
Correlating Weather and Health: Why and How
How can you use this information? That would depend on your research hypotheses about specific weather aspects potentially affecting your physiological or mental state. In my case, the variables of interest are air quality, barometric pressure, clouds and precipitation, and perhaps, temperature. The air quality may affect my allergies (I would like to find out to which extent) and cloudiness and precipitation may affect my mood. I also suspect that changes in barometric pressure cause headaches. I am not sure about the temperature, but it would be interesting to see if the temperature fluctuations have any effect on my daily routines.
Some of these readings can be recorded only once, whereas others will have to be tracked depending on the time of the day and location. In particular, air quality readings (pollen and PM2.5) should stay the same throughout the day, regardless of my work/home location (I live in the upper part and work in the lower part of Manhattan). The cloud cover, precipitation, temperature, and barometric pressure will need to be recorded in the morning, afternoon, and evening. I already started including weather data into my tracking logs next month and will keep you posted on my progress.
PS As for immediate weather metrics, I am currently looking into Netatmo personal weather station that measures environment both indoors and outdoors, as well as its cheaper alternatives . If you are currently tracking weather for “know-thyself” purposes and know of a better data source or tool than Wunderground or Netatmo, please let me know!