Guide to Wet Bulb Globe Temperature

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Guide to Wet Bulb Globe Temperature

Published
Oct 25, 2023
Author
Cam LaFontaine
Guide to Wet Bulb Globe Temperature

If you’re an athletic trainer, athletic director, or you manage outdoor activities with crowds, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of wet bulb globe temperature.

Quickly becoming the go-to, most accurate measurement for outdoor heat stress, wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) is a measurement you should be considering when you want to comprehensively and confidently ensure safety with outdoor activities. 

What is wet bulb globe temperature?

Wet bulb globe temperature measures heat stress in direct sunlight, giving a better idea of how the human body will react in hot and humid weather.

WBGT readings, unlike regular temperature readings, combine the effects of:

  • air temperature
  • wind speed
  • relative humidity
  • sun angle
  • cloud cover (solar radiation)

By taking in these other factors, WBGT is a more practical, accurate, and useful measurement of heat as it relates to the body, especially when dealing with outdoor activities and sports programs.  

Why do I need to monitor WBGT?

WBGT has been growing in popularity and usefulness, especially for youth sports and athletic programs. 

States like Georgia have begun mandating the use and monitoring of WBGT for all high school outdoor athletic programs. The University Interscholastic League (UIL) has recommended Texas athletic programs to start using WBGT and moving away from heat index. 

When schools and organizations follow WBGT and its guidelines, they can make better decisions about:

  • when it’s safe to be outside practicing
  • hydration and how often to take water breaks
  • whether to use pads during practices
  • if they should cancel practice and physical activity
  • if they should move practice or the event indoors

The science behind WBGT

WBGT involves measuring three temperatures: dry bulb, wet bulb, and globe. 

  • Dry Bulb Temperature: This is the temperature you think of when checking a thermometer. It measures the air temperature in the shade, without the effects of relative humidity or radiant heat from the sun.
  • Wet Bulb Temperature: This is a measure of the air temperature as felt when the skin is wet and exposed to moving air. It accounts for the cooling effect that happens when moisture (like sweat) evaporates. It’s measured using a thermometer wrapped in a wet cloth, capturing the combined effects of temperature and humidity.
  • Globe Temperature: This temperature captures the impact of radiant heat, like sunlight or heat from machinery, on our bodies. It’s measured using a blackened bulb or globe with a thermometer inside, allowing it to absorb radiant heat and tell us how that heat might affect us.

Heat Index vs WBGT

Two terms come up often when talking about heat: heat index and WBGT. 

  • Heat Index: Unlike WBGT, heat index is a measurement that only takes into account air temperature and humidity. Think of it as the “feels-like” temperature in a shaded area. Heat Index is measured in the shade rather than the sun, and doesn’t factor in cloud cover (solar radiation), wind, or sun angle. 
  • WBGT: Like we’ve mentioned, WBGT is more comprehensive than Heat Index because it’s taking into account many more factors to give a better idea of heat stress in particular environments.

While heat index remains the default measurement in some organizations, it’s not always the ideal measurement to use.

  • For general public weather forecasts, the Heat Index might be more applicable because it gives a quick “feels-like” temperature.
  • For situations where precision and heat safety are needed, like in outdoor sports practice or outdoor events, WBGT is preferred. 

Learn more about Heat Index vs. Wet Bulb Globe Temperature.

WBGT in sports and athletics

Outdoor sports are where WBGT is becoming the go-to measurement for heat stress. Between record-hot weeks and evolving heat stress regulations, using WBGT for heat stress monitoring in outdoor sports has never been more important.

Here’s what you need to keep in mind:

Risks of not monitoring WBGT 

Heat stress can severely impact the health and safety of athletes, especially depending on the region of the US they’re located in. Without monitoring WBGT, athletes are at risk of heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat stroke. 

These conditions can lead to serious health complications and, in severe cases, can be fatal

WBGT depends on your region 

Different regions, or “zones”, of the US have their own heat thresholds and WBGT guidelines.

There are 3 different WBGT zones in the US, each with its own threshold:

  • Class 1 zones: threshold of 84.2 degrees F
  • Class 2 zones: threshold of 87.8 degrees F
  • Class 3 zones: threshold of 90.14 degrees F

Northern states tend to have lower thresholds. Southern states tend to have higher thresholds. 

Depending on the zone your area is in dictates your WBGT threshold and the recommendations you should take when that threshold is reached like: 

  • adding more water breaks
  • cutting the length of practice
  • limiting the amount of physical activity
  • canceling the practice completely


Example:

A high school football practice in Bismarck, North Dakota – a Class 1 WBGT zone – should cancel football practice if WBGT reaches 84.2 degrees F.

However, a high school in Lubbock, Texas – a Class 2 WBGT zone – should cancel football practice if WBGT reaches 87.8 degrees F.

And to show how WBGT guidelines can change even within the same state because of zones, a high school in Dallas, Texas – a Class 3 WBGT zone – should cancel practice if WBGT reaches 90.14 degrees F.

It’s important for coaches and athletic directors to familiarize themselves with which WBGT zone they are in, so they know what guidelines to follow.

Keep in mind, some states like North Carolina are entirely one zone, while states like Pennsylvania make up all 3 different zones.

Comparison of WBGT across athletic surfaces: 

You’re a high school or university athletic trainer and need to measure WBGT for your entire athletic complex. But you have: 

  • concrete and acrylic tennis courts
  • artificial turf football fields
  • grass soccer fields

Does one centrally-taken WBGT measurement accurately account for the different athletic surfaces in your complex? The short answer: yes

The University of Georgia conducted a 2019 study where they compared WBGT measurements from different athletic surfaces in their complex and found no statistically significant differences in measurements between each surface. 

Read more about this study.

Should I use wet bulb or wet bulb globe temperature?

For Outdoor Heat Stress Activities, Use WBGT

If your primary concern revolves around outdoor activities in hot weather, WBGT is the way to go. This measurement is becoming the standard for school athletics, collegiate sports, and various outdoor activities. 

For Cold-related Activities, Use Wet Bulb

Wet bulb temperature, on the other hand, is more appropriate for cold-weather activities. It’s the preferred metric when dealing with activities like snowmaking.

For a more in-depth guide to Wet Bulb vs WBGT, our guide has you covered

How to add WBGT to heat stress policies

With increasing global temperatures and extreme extreme heat waves, the need to have WBGT included in heat stress policies is growing

Integrating WBGT into your heat stress policy:

Implementing WBGT into existing heat policies is pretty straightforward:

  • Find out what WBGT region your outdoor sports programs fall into
  • Note the WBGT category, or zone, for that region
  • Check that zone’s WBGT class
  • Note the recommended guidelines and actions that WBGT class’s threshold triggers (e.g., mandatory water breaks or practice cancellations). 

Take a look at our example WBGT policy to help guide you.

Also consider implementing clear guidance on how WBGT will be measured and how often. Handheld WBGT devices exist, but a solution like Perry Weather’s WBGT monitoring is far more comprehensive and removes a lot of the guesswork that comes with monitoring and calculating WBGT.

Plus, Perry Weather makes sure monitoring and alerting is tied back to your policy and its thresholds.

If you don’t already have a heat stress policy…

This is a good opportunity to start crafting one. Start by considering your organization’s or use case’s needs and circumstances like where you’re located and who is involved in outdoor activities.

To learn more about crafting a comprehensive heat stress and WBGT policy, read our guide.

If you need help crafting a heat stress and WBGT policy for your needs, Perry Weather offers policy consultations backed by expert meteorologists to make sure your policy is accurate, tailored, and comprehensive. 

Policy reviews and updates:

Like any policy, your WBGT policy also requires regular reviews and updates. With temperatures rising, and local weather trends evolving, your WBGT policy could be impacted if, for example, your region was originally a Class 1 zone but becomes a Class 2 zone. So make sure you’re keeping up with policy reviews and any necessary updates. 

What’s the best way to measure WBGT?

Precision is key when it comes to measuring WBGT, and not all measurement solutions are up to the task. 

Manual calculation

Manually calculating WBGT involves a formula, but you first need to calculate wet bulb temperature which itself also has a formula. So there are two complex formulas involved. This isn’t the best method, as it requires a lot of manual math, metrics, and is prone to human-error.

To see these formulas and learn how to calculate WBGT manually, read our guide. The National Weather Service also offers a WBGT forecasting tool, although this isn’t recommended when providing heat stress safety. 

On-site device

To truly get WBGT measurement right, having an on-site WBGT sensor like the one offered with Perry Weather’s weather station is the way to go. 

On-site sensors provide real-time, accurate data tailored to your exact surroundings, enabling better decision-making and accurate measurements when you need them.

Not sure about needing an on-site solution? Read our guide on why an on-site WBGT device is best

What tools and solutions exist for monitoring WBGT?

Handheld devices

These are portable but prone to human-error, especially if they require frequent calibration or if users don’t use them properly. For instance, if the device is being held in the shade, the WBGT reading will be inaccurate. And if the device isn’t calibrated properly, the reading will be inaccurate as well. 

Outdoor weather stations

Outdoor weather stations equipped with a WBGT monitoring device offer the most accurate readings and can provide real-time data directly to computers or smartphones. These weather stations remove much of the manual involvement, human error, and lack of clarity around WBGT calculations and decision-making. 

How Perry Weather helps you accurately measure and monitor WBGT

Perry Weather’s approach to WBGT measurement and monitoring lets you provide accurate, comprehensive heat safety while removing the guesswork of what to do when your WBGT threshold is reached. 

Accurate readings and alerts:

Perry Weather’s outdoor weather station, equipped with a more capable 3.5” diameter black bulb, provides precise and timely WBGT readings. That data is then reflected in a user-friendly dashboard when using Perry Weather’s WBGT monitoring software. Depending on the reading and your policy, clear and instructive alerts are then delivered via SMS, PA warnings, and more. 

Learn more about Perry Weather

Perry Weather offers accurate and done-for-you WBGT measuring and monitoring, providing solutions and features like an outdoor weather station, customizable alerts, policy consultations, and 24/7 on-call meteorologist support.

We make sure you’re able to provide comprehensive heat safety to those you’re responsible for. If you’d like to better understand how Perry Weather can elevate your WBGT monitoring and ensure safety, contact us to learn more

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