Minnesota summers come complete with heat, wind, and increasingly, dangerous ground level ozone. Air quality alerts and advisories are on the rise, and the agency is hard at work enhancing the Air Quality Index (AQI) alert system. MPCA meteorologist Daniel Dix sat down with Tom Weber from Minnesota Public Radio to discuss what steps the agency is taking to get information to Minnesotans sooner.
Most air quality advisories are the result of regional wildfires, such as the Mother’s Day wildfire that affected air quality throughout northern Minnesota. However, many recent poor air quality events are increasingly the result of high ozone levels around the state. A mix of warm days and warmer nights, pollution, wind, and complex chemical processes contribute to the development of ground level ozone. Ground level ozone usually emerges between mid-morning and late afternoon, making it a moving target for MPCA’s meteorologists and air scientists. Ozone levels can fluctuate from day to day, and even small changes in the weather can dramatically impact air quality. The resulting haze can make it difficult to breathe, especially for people in vulnerable groups, such as those with asthma, respiratory illnesses, elderly people and young children.
Dix and other agency staff are collaborating with partners such as the National Weather Service to issue air quality advisories alongside local weather forecasts, enabling people to learn about current air quality conditions much faster. Other improvements include more specific alert times and enhanced mapping. Dix says that we can expect to see many more air quality alert days in the future, due in part to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lowering the standard for ozone, and because of changes in regional weather trends. “As we learn more how ozone affects human health, we continue to develop better ways to reach people. Simple actions like filling up your gas tank in the evening and limiting vigorous activity during poor air days can make a big difference”.
Stay up to date on smoke and haze conditions in your area by visiting MPCA’s Air Quality Index page, where you can also sign up to receive air quality alerts.