Missoula air quality: What a difference a year makes

Posted at 9:32 AM, Aug 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-28 11:32:56-04

MISSOULA — Our overall summer air quality has been much better than others thanks to some well-timed rain and a lack of wildfires in and around the Treasure State.

It's late August, the sun is out, the air is clear -- it's a time to relax and breathe it all in. Seriously, you should really breathe it in because it's not the norm.

“This year’s been glorious! So, we’ve had really good air quality all summer," Missoula City-County Air Quality Specialist, Sarah Coefield said. "People have had a chance to get outside and recreate outside, and not have to worry about me sending them messages to hide inside, and hook in their air cleaner which is probably good for everybody.”

It’s a wonder that Coefield didn’t develop Carpal-Tunnel Syndrome from all the detrimental pollutants reports she’s typed over the last two years. In fact, outside of a relatively quiet 2016 smoke season, the last 10 years have produced at least a few poor air quality days. We’re just two years removed from a hazardous late summer.

“2017 was a landmark year. It was our worst year since we started collecting wildfire smoke data -- just a catastrophically terrible year where people just couldn’t go outside, and they had to stay inside and create clean indoor air spaces to try to protect their health," Coefield said. "A lot of folks got really sick from the smoke that year.”

Thankfully, the odds of seeing a series of elevated pollutants days are getting lower by the day as September nears. However, Coefield says there is a chance a general smoky haze may occur thanks to our neighbors to the west.

“The National forests in Idaho are about to start their late summer/early fall prescribed burning program, and they do tend to ignite substantial acreage, so there is a chance we’ll see some smoke coming our way from those prescribed fires," Coefield explained.

She told MTN News that with a stretch of very warm and dry days on the way, we’re not completely out of the woods, but clear, cool nights like last night will help keep moisture in the fuels and bring humidities up -- which is just what we need as we head into the last four weeks of summer.