air quality

Air quality is poor across Montana due to wildfires burning in the western U.S.
Montana DEQ

Smoke levels across most of Montana spiked today, with air quality readings reaching "Very Unhealthy" in several locations, including Missoula, Great Falls, and the Flathead Valley; and reaching the highest warning level, "Hazardous" in Hamilton.

Meteorologist Kristen Martin with Montana Department of Environmental Quality says the smoke could get even worse before it starts to get better over the weekend.

Smoky air is Montana is forcing Montana's student atheletes inside or limiting their practices.
Josh Burnham

This year, fire season has collided with the school year all over the west, especially in northwest and north central Montana, where the smoke from blazes as far away as Washington has left the air loaded with particulates that make it unhealthy to breathe, forcing teachers and coaches to decide whether to send students out for recess or practice, or keep them indoors.

 Sikorsky Sky Crane Type-1 Helicopter drops fire retardant on the Thompson-Divide Complex’s Sheep Fire burning west of Highway 2 between Mile Markers 182 and 181 about 1 mile south of Essex, MT, Aug. 22, 2015.
Jonathan Moor/Inciweb

The thick blanket of wildfire smoke over western Montana is a proving a blessing and a curse for firefighters in the state. The hazy conditions can rob fires of the oxygen they need to grow, but at the same time prevent aircraft from being able to drop water and fire retardant.

Missoula City-County Health Department

Wildfire smoke was almost bearable in some western Montana communities yesterday, but that's about to change.

The Missoula City-County Health Department says winds that have kept the smoke at bay for the past 24 hours or so are expected to shift to the west today. That could blow lots more smoke to the east.

In other words, there's a massive amount of smoke just over the mountains in Idaho and it's headed into Montana. That means air quality is going to quickly deteriorate. 

Montana air quality map.
Montana DNRC

Generally hazy and smoky conditions with only temporary relief could be with us for quite some time given all the wildfires burning in Washington, Idaho and Montana.

The state of Montana's air quality meteorologist, Kristen Martin explains what those air quality ratings mean, and how air quality is measured.

Widespread thunderstorms for western Montana.
National Weather Service

Air quality in much of western Montana improved Friday as winds from the south pushed smoke into northwest Montana and Canada. Storms expected through early next week should mitigate smoke impacts in places where rain falls.