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Smoke in atmosphere leads to hazy skies but only minor air quality concerns

Smoke from wildfires to the west has led to hazy skies, vibrant sunrises and sunsets, but it has not had a huge impact on the area’s air quality.
Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 3:40 PM EDT
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MID-MICHIGAN, Mich. (WJRT) - Smoke from wildfires to the west has led to hazy skies, vibrant sunrises and sunsets, but it has not had a huge impact on the area’s air quality.

Jim Harwood, a senior meteorologist in the air quality division of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, said that this recent round of smoke has led to elevated levels of particulates in the air but they have not been high enough to cause significant problems.

“We are seeing higher than normal numbers for particulates but fortunately it’s not gotten to a level yet that we have to issue an advisory,” he said.

Harwood said the state’s air quality division monitors levels of both ozone and particulates in the atmosphere. If levels get too high, they will issue advisories to the public warning of poor air quality.

Data from AirNow, a source for air quality information, showed that most of the state of Michigan was in a “moderate” range on its Air Quality Index on Tuesday. This meant that there were elevated levels of either ozone or particulates but not at a level that would cause widespread issues.

“So, fortunately, we’ve had it mix down, we’ve had much higher numbers than we normally have but it’s still in that moderate range,” Harwood said about particulate levels.

If conditions did worsen into the next phase, the air quality would have been “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” Harwood said he does not expect this to happen because the smoke will clear out by Wednesday.

Another reason why this round of smoke did not lead to worse air quality concerns is because of how far away the wildfires that are causing this smoke are. Harwood said most of these are burning in the Pacific Northwest or in Canada which is leading to the smoke being higher in the atmosphere. He said if these were to get closer to Michigan, or in the state itself, we would see the smoke lower in the atmosphere and more impacts from it.

“If the fires were closer, if they were happening in say Minnesota or even the northern part of the lower peninsula there, and the smoke and haze were closer to the ground, that can actually trigger some major ozone issues out there,” he said.

Looking more long-term, with wildfires continuing to burn out west, Harwood said we will likely see more bouts of smoke in the days and weeks to come.

“We haven’t even hit August yet and August is always a hot, dry month too so yeah, we expect to be seeing this for at least through August and maybe early September,” he said.

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