MISSOULA – It’s looking like Western Montana’s relatively smoke free summer is coming to end, as air quality takes a hit from regional fire smoke being trapped in the valleys by strong high pressure.
It’s been a summer where we’ve had very few smoky days, thanks to a lack of major fires in Western Montana. But that’s starting to change now, with more smoke developing from fires to the west and southwest. And with strong high pressure in place that’s trapping smoke and other pollutants at the surface.
On Wednesday, most of the DEQ gauges have been reporting "moderate" air quality across Western Montana, although at times today air in Seeley Lake and the Flathead has been "unhealthy for sensitive groups." And smoke is expected to continue to be a problem through the end of the week.
"Yeah, we’ve been fortunate this summer in that we haven’t had a lot of fires centered around the Missoula County-Missoula area like we did last summer, where we were just getting hammered," said Missoula City-County Health Dept. Air Quality Specialist Ben Schmidt. "That being said there’s still a lot of fires out in the Pacific Northwest. There’s a couple now in Northwestern Montana. And because of this regional high pressure ridge this smoke is basically just piling up and settling in. This week we’ve had some significant impacts also from the Washington fires. And last week of course we had that nice influx of smoke in the middle of the week and that was more from the California and Oregon fires."
Schmidt says a cold front pushing in this weekend should provide some relief. But he advises people with health issues to begin taking precautions, such as limiting time outside or installing air filters.