WEATHER 101: Risk for sunburn increases with elevation

Less atmosphere higher up to protect from harmful UV rays

By Chris Michaels - Meteorologist

With the weekend being as hot as it's going to be, you might think about hiking to higher and cooler ground. Good idea!

You should know, however, that the sun is "stronger" at higher elevations.

And no, this isn't because you're closer to the sun. We're 93 million miles from the sun. An elevation jump of 2,000 to 5,000 feet won't be the reason why you get burned.

Our Atmosphere

Think of our atmosphere as four-layer cake (yum!). 

The troposphere is the lowest layer. This is where weather happens.

Above that is the stratosphere. The lower part of the stratosphere is usually where commercial airlines will cruise.

Above that is the mesosphere. This is typically where meteors burn up on entry.

Lastly, there's the thermosphere. The International Space Station orbits around here, and charged particles that set off the aurora borealis (northern lights) reside here. 

Different gases in our atmosphere make our planet inhabitable. The largest portion of those gases that protect us from harmful UV rays can be found in the lower layers. 

So as you head up in elevation, there's less atmosphere to protect your skin from the sun's harmful UV rays. In fact, exposure to ultraviolet radiation increases by 4% per 1,000 feet you climb

Especially during the summer, this can be pretty harmful if you're not protecting yourself. The UV Index through this weekend is very high, meaning that fifteen minutes of unprotected skin (initially) can result in sunburn.

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