A new app from Texas researchers shows how clouds of lung-pummeling ozone move through Houston neighborhoods.

Smartphone technology makes it easy nowadays to avoid thunderstorms. Just download a Doppler-radar app, and you'll rarely be caught in the middle of a cornfield with a monster tornado passing through.

And now there's an app that monitors chemical weather – in particular, the noxious clouds of ozone that noiselessly drift through cities, scorching lungs, triggering asthma attacks and herding urbanites toward their premature deaths.

The free "OzoneMap" (iTunes, Google) will only help the residents of Houston, but that's no small thing: The Houston/Baytown/Huntsville region comes in eighth place for most ozone-polluted cities in America, as ranked by the American Lung Association. Persistently sunny weather, a battalion of petrochemical facilities and scads of fuming cars on the road make Houston a nightmare for anyone who's chemically sensitive. For these folks, walking outside is like playing a lower-stakes version of Russian roulette, with 30 to 40 days of the year fogged with hazardous levels of ozone.

Texas does post hourly ozone readings from a couple dozen monitors throughout the Houston area, but their Excel-like appearance with flurries of numbers might be daunting to people who like a more visual presentation. That's where the OzoneMap comes in. Designed by specialists at the University of Houston, the Air Alliance Houston and the American Lung Association, the program shows a real-time map of Houston stalked by huge red and purple blobs, representing ozone blown about on the wind.

The app makes it clear that while some neighborhoods might be rife with foul air, others are relatively clean. Theoretically, if people were fleet-footed enough they could use the app to beat a course through the city that avoided these crawling toxic air masses altogether.

The researchers say they hope this technology will be helpful to people who've become desensitized enough to Houston's reoccurring ozone storms that they don't check the weather each day. Now, all we need is an app like this for every major city in the world (London's already got one!), and we all can breathe safely.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A Juggalo standing in front of Buffalo City Hall.
    Equity

    The Juggalo March Is Not a Joke

    Facepainted fans of the Insane Clown Posse are gathering on the National Mall this weekend. And they have something important to say.

  2. POV

    How to Save a Dying Suburb

    For older, inner-ring suburbs in the Northeast and Midwest, the best hope often lies in merging with the city.

  3. Transportation

    The Commuter Parking Benefit Is Seriously Hurting Cities

    The federal government spends $7.6 billion a year paying people to drive to work, and it’s making traffic and pollution worse. Here’s how some cities are fighting back.

  4. Transportation

    A Troubled Bike Share Takes a Time-Out

    After thefts and vandalism, Baltimore’s new bike share system has suspended operations for a month.  

  5. Design

    A Wary South Side Eyes Obama's Return

    The Obama Presidential Center is poised to transform Chicago’s Jackson Park, as well as its surrounding neighborhoods. But residents want a binding community benefits agreement