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Energy from the sun reaches the earth as visible, infrared, and ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Only UVA and UVB ultraviolet rays reach the earth's surface. The earth's atmosphere absorbs UVC wavelengths.
In most cases, ultraviolet rays react with a chemical called melanin, that is found in the skin. This is the first defense against the sun, as it is the melanin that absorbs the dangerous UV rays that can do serious skin damage. A sunburn develops when the amount of UV damage exceeds the protection that the skin's melanin can provide. While a small amount of exposure to sunlight is healthy and pleasurable, too much can be dangerous. Measures should be taken to prevent overexposure to sunlight in order to reduce the risks of cancers, premature aging of the skin, the development of cataracts, and other harmful effects.
In response to the increasing incidence of skin cancer, cataracts, and other effects from exposure to the sun's harmful rays, the National Weather Service (NWS) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collaborated on a sun-awareness information program. An important part of this program is the Ultraviolet (UV) Index.
The Index is a next-day forecast that estimates the amount of ultraviolet radiation that will reach the earth's surface -- providing important information to help you prevent overexposure to the sun's rays. The Index also includes the effects of cloud cover on the anticipated UV exposure level for the next day.