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Durham University

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Publication details for Professor Glenn McGregor

David, R.E., McGregor, G.R. & Enfield, K.B. (2016). Humidity: A review and primer on atmospheric moisture and human health. Environmental Research 144(Part A): 106-116.

Author(s) from Durham


Research examining associations between weather and human health frequently includes the effects of atmospheric humidity. A large number of humidity variables have been developed for numerous purposes, but little guidance is available to health researchers regarding appropriate variable selection. We examine a suite of commonly used humidity variables and summarize both the medical and biometeorological literature on associations between humidity and human health. As an example of the importance of humidity variable selection, we correlate numerous hourly humidity variables to daily respiratory syncytial virus isolates in Singapore from 1992 to 1994. Most water-vapor mass based variables (specific humidity, absolute humidity, mixing ratio, dewpoint temperature, vapor pressure) exhibit comparable correlations. Variables that include a thermal component (relative humidity, dewpoint depression, saturation vapor pressure) exhibit strong diurnality and seasonality. Humidity variable selection must be dictated by the underlying research question. Despite being the most commonly used humidity variable, relative humidity should be used sparingly and avoided in cases when the proximity to saturation is not medically relevant. Care must be taken in averaging certain humidity variables daily or seasonally to avoid statistical biasing associated with variables that are inherently diurnal through their relationship to temperature.