Air Quality Update For Western Montana, September 7, 2017

Sep 7, 2017

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

"Good morning, The smoke is thick, the inversions are strong, and the Smoke Spiral is still rotating overhead. It's messy out there, folks.

Want to know how thick the smoke is? Scroll (up) real quick and check out the amazing photo sent in by the Missoula Office of Emergency Management (OEM). Steve Mollenhoff, the Communications Coordinator for OEM was on top of Point Six this morning and took this photo looking northwest at Sleeping Woman Peak (also known as Ch-paa-qn Peak). The mountain is barely peeking up over smoke trapped in the valleys You can see there's yet more smoke even higher overhead in a band above the mountain peaks. It's just a lot of smoke.

The smoke from yesterday is still with us this morning, and it's either been holding pretty steady or getting thicker as the hours wear on. We don't have any happy islands of decent air (except for the top of Point Six, apparently). The entire county is seeing significant smoke impacts. Air quality is current Unhealthy in Missoula, Frenchtown and Rock Creek. Air quality is Very Unhealthy in Arlee. Conditions are Hazardous in the Potomac Valley, Lolo, Clearwater Junction, Seeley Lake, the Swan Valley, and very likely also in Florence.

The overhead smoke is responsible for the widespread impacts, and it's adding to the local smoke that to create Very Unhealthy and Hazardous conditions. Smoke from the Rice Ridge fire has filled the Seeley Lake Valley and it has made its way over the Swan Valley, where conditions have been deteriorating all morning. Liberty Fire smoke is swamping the Clearwater Junction/Greenough area and has poured into the Potomac Valley. Meanwhile, smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire is pooled in the Bitterroot Valley, creating Hazardous conditions and severely limiting visibility. The high pressure ridge is preventing any significant smoke movement, and the inversions are strong enough to keep smoke entrenched in valleys for several hours this morning. We are likely to continue to see significant smoke impacts in these valleys into the afternoon and possibly throughout the day.

Yesterday, Seeley Lake set a record for their all-time worst air quality with a PM2.5 24-hour average of 623.5 ug/m3. For perspective, the 24-hour National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for PM2.5 is 35 ug/m3. In order to protect human health, we don't ever want to exceed the NAAQS. Yesterday, the pollution in Seeley Lake almost 18 times the NAAQS.

Today may be worse. Seeley lake has exceeded 1,000 ug/m3 for the past five hours.

There are no rays of sunshine in today's forecast. Literally, even. The smoke is so thick that we are unlikely to see any sky, and sunlight will be muted throughout the day. Temperatures will be kept about 10 degrees cooler than we would otherwise see today. This is good news for the fires, and it is nice to have pseudo-seasonal temperatures. It's just super depressing to know any relief from the heat is due to massive amounts of overhead pollution. Our surface and transport breezes will be easterly and meager and the inversions are unlikely to break until some time this afternoon. There will be no valley-scouring winds, and the winds aloft will continue to deposit smoke overhead from the north and northwest. (Due to the spiraling smoke, the smoke that's north and northwest of us includes smoke from Canada, Washington, Oregon, northern California, and probably also Idaho and possibly even some of our own smoke coming back to get us. I know it's supposed to be sign of true love if something you've set free comes back for you, but I'm feeling like the smoke we've sent away has ulterior motives in its return.)

While the narrow valleys with pooled smoke may see some improvement this afternoon when inversions break, there will be no significant relief from the smoke. Those of us who are not in pooled smoke can expect deteriorating conditions this morning when some of the overhead smoke starts mixing down. We can all expect continued smoke impacts throughout the day. Some areas may remain Hazardous, and areas that are currently Unhealthy or Very Unhealthy may end up in worse health categories by the afternoon.

Try not to breathe outside too much today. Curl up next to an air filter and think kind thoughts toward your lungs.

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.

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 their 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.

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.

Tomorrow the axis of the high pressure will start to shift and we will be under a more southwesterly flow aloft. We will still be seeing incoming smoke from the surrounding region, but it will be coming in a new and exciting direction! Typically, we could expect some convection and possible thunderstorms as a result of that southwesterly flow, but the smoke may inhibit any interesting weather feature formation. Looking farther ahead, the weekend may bring an unstable atmosphere with some potentially strong winds and a return to active fire behavior."