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When Chemistry Meets Weather

When Chemistry Meets Weather

Posted on 12 Apr 2024

Chemical facilities are an essential part of the global manufacturing landscape, creating the raw materials crucial to our daily lives. However, they also carry inherent risks. Accidental chemical releases can have devastating consequences for workers, surrounding communities, and the environment. 

In November 2023, a petroleum plant in Shepherd, Texas suffered a catastrophic failure, sending chemicals with ‘acute toxicity’ into the atmosphere. The blast triggered a stay-at-home order, closing a school and nearby highway. The same year, a blast in a chemical plant close to the Indian city of Surat caused widespread damage and personal injury. 

Understanding and actively managing these risks is central to chemical plant safety. While internal safety protocols and emergency response plans are essential, understanding the weather, and its impact on chemical plumes is a vital element in effective risk and emergency management.

Importance of the weather

Weather conditions directly impact how a hazardous chemical cloud disperses through the atmosphere in the event of a chemical release. Wind patterns, temperature, and precipitation all play a significant role in the behavior of the chemical cloud. By integrating accurate, real-time weather forecasting into safety planning and emergency response protocols, chemical plants can operate with greater confidence, and ultimately create a safe environment for all.

Weather's Influence on Chemical Cloud Behavior


Wind is undoubtedly the most critical factor determining the path a chemical release will take. Wind speed influences how quickly the cloud spreads, with stronger winds diluting the concentration but potentially affecting a larger area in less time.  Simultaneously, wind direction governs where the hazard is most likely to travel. Having a clear understanding of prevailing wind patterns allows plants to plan for potential high-risk scenarios.


The temperature of a released chemical, relative to that of the surrounding air, influences its buoyancy. Warmer gasses tend to rise, leading to greater vertical dispersion. Conversely, cooler, denser chemicals may stay closer to the ground. Atmospheric stability also comes into play,  with stable conditions trapping chemicals near ground level, whereas unstable conditions tend to cause the mixing and dilution of the chemical plume.


Rain or snow can interact with a chemical cloud, potentially washing hazardous particles to the ground. While this might remove some of the airborne threat, it raises the potential for contamination of soil, surface water, and potentially even groundwater sources.

The Human Factor

Understanding how people react to a chemical plant explosion can also play a significant role in managing risk. There is a strong urge for individuals to leave their homes to closely investigate initial reports of an incident, rather than what may seem the more sensible approach of closing doors and windows, and staying inside. 

Due to the dynamic nature of a chemical release, any initial news reports are likely to be out of date. Local inhabitants would want to understand for themselves the true severity of an event. Residents are also likely to check on the welfare of their neighbors, rather than putting their own safety first. 

Human curiosity also plays a part in how local residents react. The fight-or-flight response can cause some individuals to respond to danger by approaching the source, rather than moving away. Herd mentality can also be a powerful factor in how people react - if people see their neighbors leaving their homes, they are more likely to do the same. 

By giving residents apps that they can use to monitor the likely path and severity of the chemical plume can give them reliable insights into the true nature of the situation, and how it is likely to unfold given the current and forecast weather conditions. This information could be sufficient to persuade them to stay in a safe place, or when safe, to move to a more suitable location. 

How OpenWeather can help

OpenWeather products can be used for chemical plume modeling, helping understand the effect on local populations around a planned or existing chemical plant. Historic weather data can be used to understand the prevailing weather conditions, current and forecast data can be used for a multitude of users, from chemical plant managers to the emergency services and local residents. Our Road Risk API can be used to manage the safe transportation of chemicals by road.  

Our One Call API 3.0 provides nuanced yet easy to use access to essential global weather data, short-term and long-term forecasts and aggregated historical weather data. 

The One Call API 3.0 offers access to a range of data through three endpoints:

1. Current weather conditions and forecasts:

  • Minute-by-minute forecast for the next hour

  • Hourly forecast spanning 48 hours

  • Daily forecast covering 8 days

  • Government weather alerts

2. Weather data available for any specific timestamp from a historical archive spanning over 40 years, alongside forecasts for the next 4 days.

3. Daily aggregation of weather data from a historical archive spanning over 40 years, along with forecasts extending 1.5 years ahead.

This data can be easily incorporated into existing safety systems for use by a wide range of agencies and individuals, ultimately keeping people safe.

Metal pipes twisting, 

Tangy fumes fill the harsh air, 

New things from old made.

About OpenWeather:

OpenWeather provides weather data for any location on the globe using a proprietary hyperlocal forecasting model with a resolution from 500 m to 2 km, globally. More than 6,000,000 customers from logistics, agriculture, insurance, energy, retail, and many other sectors, are working with the company's weather products. 

OpenWeather cooperates with global meteorological agencies such as MetOffice and NOAA, and enhances its model with data from radars, weather stations and satellites. The company provides great availability of service at 99.9% for enterprise-level products. 

The products can be easily integrated into complex IT systems and are ideal for ML analytic systems. OpenWeather is a member of Royal Meteorological Society and an Achilles-certified supplier. OpenWeather ethical initiatives include support of educators and students, not-for-profit subscriptions for the general public to increase weather awareness, and a recent Ukrainian donation programme.

For more information on how to gain access to our OpenWeather products, please email us.

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