Air quality ‘unhealthy’ in Missoula, ‘very unhealthy’ in Hamilton | ABC Fox Missoula

Air quality ‘unhealthy’ in Missoula, ‘very unhealthy’ in Hamilton | ABC Fox Missoula

UPDATE: SEPT. 12 AT 11:34 A.M.

The following is a message from Missoula County Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield:

“Today’s theme is stability gone bad. Or maybe too much of a bad thing. Regardless, we have a lot of smoke piled up across the region, and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  

Air quality is currently Unhealthy across Missoula County.  It gets worse as you go farther south: Conditions are currently Very Unhealthy in Hamilton. If you’re in the mood for a road trip, the nearest Good air is east of Billings. 

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 asthma management plan.  People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors. 

We are currently sitting under a high pressure ridge, and it is giving the weather models conniptions when it comes to forecasting transport wind direction. The air under a high pressure ridge rotates in a clockwise direction. If you aren’t at the center of the ridge, the overhead air direction is predictable. If you are in the center of the ridge, it just gets swirly. And folks, we are all the mayors of Swirly Town today. According to various atmospheric models, overhead winds are, at times, going to be coming at us from the east, southeast, south, southwest, west, or northwest. But you know something? It doesn’t matter which of these directions are correct or if all of them are correct, because there is no good direction for the wind to blow. The smoke is everywhere. 

Another side effect of the high pressure is a very prolonged inversion. (The smoke cover contributes to this, as well.) The inversion isn’t likely to break until late this afternoon. When that inversion breaks, we may have a repeat of yesterday, in that conditions just get that much worse. Our evening air quality depends on how much smoke is overhead around 4:00 p.m. this afternoon and how much of that smoke gets pulled down to ground level.  

Tomorrow will also be smoky. 

Pay attention to how your body is responding to the smoke and be gentle with yourself. The air is bad and has been bad for a while now. The longer a smoke event drags on, the more the smoke is likely to affect you. Also, please remember that smoke affects everything with lungs. This is not a great time to take your doggo on a long run. We will hopefully have better air toward the end of the week, so pace yourself and your furbabies and plan on spending quality time outside when the air is less chewy.  

I’ve attached guidance for outdoor activities for kids and the general public to this email. Also, be sure to visit www.montanawildfiresmoke.org for tips on how to clean your indoor air! 

Finally, some potentially less awful news: The lengthy inversion and thick smoke cover may tamp down our local fire activity today, and there are some clouds and rain showers over Washington and Oregon this morning, which could help slow those smoke makers. In addition, the high pressure ridge should flatten by Wednesday, which will allow better air movement and hopefully give a shot at cleaner air. 

In case you didn’t read yesterday’s update (it was a weekend, I get it. Not many people want to read a smoke treatise on a Sunday.), I am reposting my discussion about inversions and Purple Air sensors below (if you did read it, go ahead and skip down to the photos!) 

Blast from the past info for all ya’ll who didn’t read this yesterday (today’s satellite photo is below):

And now, a quick interlude about inversions: A temperature inversion exists when the ground level air is colder than the air above it. If you look at the weather stations around the region, you can see the temperature in the middle of Missoula (at our Boyd Park monitor, in fact), is  several degrees cooler than temperatures in the mountains. The inversion won’t break until the sun warms the ground enough to warm the air above it to a temperature higher than the layer of overhead air. Once the ground-level air is warmer than the air above it, it will lift up and we will start to see overhead mixing. Now, when the ground-level air is more polluted than the higher air, this inversion break is excellent, because it means the pollution will be lifted out of the valley and be replaced with cleaner air. Today, though, it looks like it will mostly mean our smoky air will be replaced with smokier air.  

Also, a fun way to monitor inversion break on the pollution front (if you get tired of staring at RAWS stations) is to watch how the Purple Air sensors on the fire.airnow.gov map behave. The sensors at higher elevations will typically start changing sooner than the Boyd Park monitor because they are not under as strong an inversion. If you are feeling particularly nerdy, you can watch the RAWS stations in one tab and the fire.airnow.gov map in another tab and see how, as the temperature increases across the region, the sensors nearest the weather stations show changing pollution levels. I did this at one point last week to watch the march of smoke up the Bitterroot Valley into Missoula. It was akin to watching a cool, cleanish air bubble shrink smaller and smaller as temperatures warmed. 

And finally, a note about the Purple Air sensors on the fire.airnow.gov map. They are wonderful tools for tracking changing air quality conditions. They are precise, and if they tell you the air is getting better or worse, you can believe them. They are not, however, always particularly accurate. Purple Airs have long been known to have a high bias when it comes to wildfire smoke. The EPA worked very hard for a long time and developed a good correction for Purple Air data, which is why I always send you to their fire.airnow.gov map instead of the Purple Air website. EPA’s correction is really good, but it isn’t perfect. The permanent regulatory monitors at Frenchtown, Boyd Park and Seeley Lake are both accurate and precise. If you are right next to one of these monitors, that’s where you’ll get your best information. 

That said, wildfire smoke is weird, ya’ll. It can vary dramatically from one part of a valley to the next and can be very different based on which valley you are in or what hillside you’re on. Currently, the Boyd Park monitor is in a very strong inversion at the bottom of the Missoula Valley. If you are at a higher elevation or under a weaker inversion, it’s worthwhile to look for a Purple Air near you and see how the air is changing at your location. If you’re curious how I use the map, I like to select a sensor and then scroll down on the interface to where I can look at the 10-minute readings. This helps me see if conditions are changing rapidly or holding steady. I don’t entirely trust the measurements themselves, but they give a darn good ball park, which is why I say things like “conditions are generally Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.” 

The clouds and massive amounts of overhead smoke make it difficult to see much detail in today’s satellite photo. The smoke is everywhere, so it doesn’t matter all that much which way the transport winds blow. We’re currently sitting in a strong inversion, and once it breaks, whichever smoke has made its way overhead will mix down to ground level.

You may get massive side eye from your furbabies, but it’s important to keep them healthy. Let your doggos out to do their business, and maybe do a lap or two to get some zoomies out, but try to keep them inside with cleaner air. This hiking kitty is grounded until the air improves.”


 

The following is a message from Missoula County Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield:

MISSOULA, Mont. – 

“The air’s bad, folks. We’re sitting at Unhealthy air quality across Missoula County. Going south, it gets worse. Air quality is currently Very Unhealthy in Hamilton.

I’m not expecting much improvement today, but will send out a more detailed forecast later this morning. For now, avoid outdoor exertion and clean your indoor air as best you can. 

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. 

If you live or work in the Hamilton area, please try to avoid breathing the outdoor air as best you can and clean your indoor air. Consider using an N95 respirator when you are outdoors to limit smoke inhalation.

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.  People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.”

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