SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – If you haven’t been outside to check out the extremely poor air quality in the Salt Lake Valley on Friday, don’t.
The Utah Division of Air Quality is calling conditions a “red day,” with air quality so potentially harmful, it has been categorized as “unhealthy.” Summer days in Utah are often labeled as “orange,” having air quality “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” but Friday’s situation is considered to be unhealthy for all, according to officials.
The poor air is expected to last through the weekend, according to the division’s spokesperson Ashley Sumner.
“A cold front is pushing in some smoke from Northern California, and then more from the west that’s really pushing in a lot of smoke,” she explains to ABC4.com. “We actually don’t really know when it’s going to get pushed out. We’re thinking probably through the weekend. We don’t know if it’ll be this past weekend, but we don’t really see anything that is going to push it out until at least Monday.”
The current situation was inevitable, ABC4 TV Chief Meteorologist Alana Brophy laments, noting that this had been forecasted earlier in the week. Had it not been for the storms in Southern Utah, the smoke would have arrived sooner.
“This is what we would have been dealing with if we didn’t see our monsoon the last few weeks. The flash floods were heartbreaking but our southerly flow allowed for clean air,” she says.
Sumner states that the majority of the issue is coming from wildfires in California, but some of the smoke also may be deriving from a hay fire in Utah County, in which a reported 1,000 tons of hay have been engulfed in flames.
Brophy explains that smoky air has a history of traveling a great distance, even across the entire country.
“These thick plumes of smoke bring the smell of smoke, the taste of smoke and falling ash. Upper-level winds can carry plumes of smoke for hundreds to thousands of miles. You may recall New York battled smoke from California just a little while ago,” she says of a recent story out of the Big Apple back in July.
Brophy continues to state that due to the Salt Lake Valley’s unique topography, the smoke is trapped below the mountains, not unlike the inversion effect that can create air quality concerns in the winter. It’s a double whammy when both air particulate matter and ozone are involved.
“We are facing two pollutants today when it comes to our air, elevated particulate matter and ozone. The influx of smoke has brought elevated particulate matter into Utah, which is a pollutant we typically battle in the winter during the inversion season back for the summer,’ she says.
The situation is calling for residents to take action to protect themselves and mitigate the problem, which is expected to last for a couple of days.
Sumner says that anyone who is at risk of a severe health concern, such as asthma and heart conditions, should avoid going outside at all. The tiny and harmful air particles in the air right now can become trapped in the bloodstream and lungs, Sumner says. It’s also important to have as few vehicles as possible on the roads as car emissions can exacerbate the issue. Those who are staying inside should do whatever they need to do to make themselves as comfortable as possible, such as changing air filters or running fans.
“The things that folks would do to improve their indoor air quality can be impactful right now,” she says.
Above all, officials are asking Utahns, especially those at risk, to monitor their body’s signals.
“If you feel a scratchy throat, burning in the lungs burning in the eyes, that means that the smoke is impacting you, and we recommend staying inside as much as possible,” Sumner suggests.
Air quality can change rapidly, Sumner says, but staying informed will be vital to understanding how to proceed and when to stay home.
“We’ve got an app, the Utah air app that people can download and have their the air quality forecast and information right in their pocket for their neighborhood. And visit air.utah.gov or the forecasts and current conditions as well.”
ABC4.com and ABC4 TV Pinpoint Weather will also be monitoring the situation and providing updates as they come in.