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Unhealthy air impacts Missoula area

By Matt Gray, Meteorologist/Reporter, mgray@keci.com
Published On: Aug 20 2013 06:50:52 PM MDT
Wildfires around Missoula

Wildfires in Western Montana. Missoula is in the blue circle. Photo courtesy Ben Schmidt, Missoula County Health Department.

MISSOULA, Mont. -

Areas near wildfires in western Montana are on alert for poor air quality.  This morning the Lolo Creek Complex fire lowered air quality to unhealthy in the southern part of the Missoula Valley. During the afternoon the smoke rose above the valley floor, improving air quality to moderate. This will be the smoke pattern for the next several days as nighttime valley inversions trap the smoke until the afternoon hours.

The primary concern for poor air is in Missoula and Lolo. Winds will blow the majority of the smoke east-northeast. Areas south of the fire will see smoke drift down the Bitterroot Valley overnight and lift in the morning. With winds remaining strong through the rest of the week, the weather will be uncooperative at best.

Local sports are also being affected by the fire as high school athletes begin the fall season. The majority of football practice at Big Sky High School was held indoors today according to administrators due to the smoke. With air quality monitors being very scarce it's often up to measuring visibility with your eyes to determine air quality in your area. At Big Sky High, Mount Sentinel is their benchmark. Being 5 miles distant from the campus, it represents the threshold for unhealthy air quality.

With winds shifting later in the week, the possibility exists that visibility may dip below 2 miles in some places, which under Missoula County Public School guidelines means cancellations of outdoor events.

Despite their scarcity, air quality monitors can provide a useful guideline. For more on air quality in Missoula County and around the state, visit the state department of air quality website here. At the todays air website, you can also find criteria for air quality categories, safety tips, and more guidelines for athletic events.