This beautiful blue sky and sunshine may be hiding a threat to the health of western Montanans in the form of stagnant air that cannot move pollutants out of the valley.

Missoula City County Health Department Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield explains.

“The National Weather Service issued an air stagnation advisory for the next little while here because there's a really significant high pressure ridge that is setting up over the region,” said Coefield. “So what that high pressure will do is make the inversions really strong, which means we're going to have much colder air down at the valley floor and any pollution you put into it gets trapped in that layer of cold air.”

Coefield said her office will be watching the situation carefully to see if the stagnant air continues to hang low around the Missoula valley.

“There's potential over the next several days for it to get progressively worse, especially if folks are using wood heat for their homes, doing a lot of driving or other activities that produce particulate,” she said. “Air pollution is just going to be stuck in our breathing space until that high pressure ridge breaks and some fresh air can move into the area.”

Coefield said there are specific things valley residents can do to mitigate the possible pollution.

“We do want folks to pay attention to the air quality and moderate their activities as they can,” she said. “So this is not a great time to be using your wood burning fireplace or your wood. If you have an alternative source of heat, this is a good time to be using that instead of wood heat.”

If worst comes to worst, Coefield said a Stage One Air Alert could be possible.

“As the conditions deteriorate, there is a potential to cause some unfortunate buildup of a particulate pollution in the valleys,” she said. “We will be watching the particulate levels and if necessary, we will call a Stage 1 Air Alert if we get to that point, which will require people to stop using any wood burning appliances in the Missoula air stagnation zone.

An Air Stagnation Advisory is in effect until Saturday.

To get up to the minute air quality reports, click here.


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