Air Quality Update For Western Montana, August 30, 2017

Aug 30, 2017

Today's air quality update from Missoula City-County Air Quality Specialist, Sarah Coefield:

"The air is bad, and it's bad pretty much everywhere. The places that aren't bad will be bad soon.

We have smoke at ground level, smoke above the inversion layer, and smoke aloft. The only good thing about universally crummy air is it makes decision making a bit easier. Ask yourself: "Should I run around outside this morning? Really get that heart rate up?" No. The answer is no.

I wrote this yesterday, but it bears repeating: The longer this drags on, the more it will wear on all of our systems. Particulate matter is a cumulative pollutant, and we've all been swimming in it for a month, now. When air quality is Unhealthy it is important that you respect not only the current conditions, but also the fact that your body has been fending off the pollution's effects for a month, and is likely getting a little worn down. Anecdotally, headaches are becoming more pervasive and persistent, and respiratory symptoms from even light exercise more common. Please take care of yourselves. Also, there are good reasons we advise against exertion in Unhealthy air: the harder you're breathing, the bigger dose of pollution you're subjecting yourself to AND the harder you're making your system work to keep itself functioning.

Also, I know we tend to focus on the physical health effects of the smoke, but the relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression. Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700. Please take care of yourselves, folks. The heavy rain and/or snow cover we need to really put an end to this is a long way away.

I've attached activity guidelines for schools, sporting events and day cares, as well as a handy brochure about HEPA filters. We could be looking at another month of this smoke. A HEPA filter will help you create a space in your home with breathable air.

There is thick smoke pooled in near active fires this morning, creating Very Unhealthy air quality in Lolo, Florence, and the Arlee/Evaro area. Conditions in Seeley Lake are Hazardous again this morning, with the 1-hour PM2.5 concentrations back up around 1000 ug/m3. It's been more than two weeks since the last time Seeley Lake residents didn't wake up to Hazardous air quality, and it's been more than a month since the last time they woke up to Moderate air quality. While a lot of folks have been evacuated from Seeley Lake, there are still people living in the Seeley Lake valley and they are breathing the smoke.

The Holland Lake area does not typically see overnight pooled smoke from the Rice Ridge Fire, but today it has seen continuously deteriorating air quality since 4:00 a.m. Conditions in the Holland Lake area are also Hazardous.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan. Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible. Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to. You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online .

Air quality in areas with pooled smoke will start to improve when the inversions break, which should happen around noon.

Those of us who are not directly adjacent to an active fire are still seeing significant smoke impacts this morning. Conditions are Unhealthy in Missoula, Clearwater Junction, Rock Creek, and Condon. Frenchtown and Alberton are the only hold outs, with Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups conditions, but when the overhead smoke mixes down, these areas will likely join us all in our smoke misery. We have lost touch with our Potomac Valley monitor, but it is safe to assume conditions are, at a minimum, Unhealthy, and may be Very Unhealthy due to proximity to the Liberty Fire.

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors. People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Conditions will continue to deteriorate this morning as inversions break in the larger valleys, which will allow overhead smoke from local fires to mix down into our breathing space. We will also see smoke from active fires making a lateral move into nearby valleys, which will also cause deteriorating conditions.

This afternoon could see varying conditions depending on your location. There is a chance some of us will see passing dry thunderstorms. There will be gusty winds associated with these storms, which have the potential to help move some smoke out of the valley floor. However, there are no large systems headed our way today, so if there is wind-driven clearing, it will be spotty. The primary impact from any thunderstorms may be increased smoke production. If thunderstorms move over active fire areas, there will be gusty outflow winds on the fires, which will increase fire activity. There is also the risk of new starts from lightning strikes.

Currently, it's looking like Missoula's best chance at some surface-level winds will be mid-to-late afternoon.

The confounding factor is, once again, smoke from fires burning far, far away. We are still seeing smoke from the Pacific Northwest this morning, and today we will likely see more Idaho smoke added to the mix. The PNW smoke that's far overhead will start to mix down this afternoon. Meanwhile, transport breezes and the winds aloft will be from the southwest, which will drive smoke from Idaho toward Missoula County. So while there's a chance winds will arrive to push away this morning's smoke, there's also a good chance new smoke will land on top of us.

Thursday continues to be our best bet for seeing any real valley-scouring winds across the county. A passing cold front should provide strong the afternoon winds we've been looking for. If the winds do arrive and we get some decent air, that is the time to go outside and take some good deep breaths. Don't assume you will be healthy enough to go for a long run, but do air out your lungs, the inside of your car and your home. We're headed toward another strong high pressure ridge this weekend, so grab fresh air while you can."