Air Quality Update For Western Montana, August 20, 2018

Aug 20, 2018

Yes, the air is bad. No, the smoke is not the entire reason it is so very dreary out there. We are dealing with a combination of cloud cover and smoke cover, which means the sky is gray and the light we can see is filtered through the smoke and is therefore extra weak. Smoke is basically the sun’s kryptonite.  I could get into a whole narrative about how the smoke is the product of the sun’s unrelenting heat on the landscape and it has risen (literally) from the ashes to challenge its creator, but really. That would be silly.

Anyway. Air quality is currently Unhealthy in Missoula and Seeley Lake. Air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Frenchtown but is currently on a worsening trend and is edging toward Unhealthy.

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 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion. Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

As the smoke season drags on, we're likely to see more Unhealthy air quality make its way into our valleys. Also, the longer we're in the smoke, the worse it is for everyone. Please pay attention to how your body is reacting to the smoke and take precautions such as limiting outdoor exertion and taking steps to clean your indoor air.

The next several hours could be somewhat interesting. We’re already seeing the strong easterly surface winds in Missoula that were in this morning’s forecast. Meanwhile, there’s a string of clouds coming at us from the southwest that is dropping some precipitation in our area. And on top of that, we have slow moving winds swirling high overhead and generally keeping out-of-state smoke in our vicinity. The strong surface winds this morning haven’t been able to scour the valleys clear, which isn’t terribly surprising when you consider the amount of smoke that rolled in over the area yesterday. If we’re lucky, afternoon convection and the incoming weather system will be sufficient to lift the smoke up and out of our breathing space this afternoon. However, I have a suspicion that there’s enough smoke overhead to keep us from seeing any significant relief from the haze today.

Looking toward the future, the high elevation winds that are currently coming from the southwest are going to switch direction by tomorrow and come at us from the northeast. You know, the exact same direction the wind’s been dumping smoke all day. There aren’t a ton of fires to our northeast, but there will likely be some old smoke out there that is going to be pulled back into our region on Tuesday. Over the next several days there’s going to be some general high-level wind swirliness happening over Missoula, and the air is going to come at us from many different directions. I have a suspicion that this may just mean the overhead smoke gets pushed and pulled and generally stays in our area and, to spice things up, we’ll see an occasional influx of new smoke. However, there’s also a possibility we’ll catch a break and we’ll see clean air delivered to our valleys. It’s just so very swirly and it’s hard to say precisely where the smoke from fires burning in Canada, Washington, Idaho, Oregon and California is going to end up.

Stay up to date with changing smoke conditions by checking Montana’s Today’s Air website for near real-time PM2.5 concentrations around the state: