We’re Not Really Supposed To See “It.”

Sun Through Smoke Over South Eugene | Photo by Tim Chuey

“It” is defined by the National Weather Service as “the mixture of gasses comprising the earth’s atmosphere.” Of course that is the definition of air.

Air Properties | Image by www.grc.nasa.gov
Air Properties | Image by www.grc.nasa.gov

Our atmosphere is made up of Nitrogen, Oxygen, Hydrogen, Argon, Carbon Dioxide, Neon, Methane, Helium, Krypton, Xenon, Ozone, Nitrogen Dioxide, Iodine, Carbon Monoxide and Ammonia according to About.com. When you put those gasses together the result is a colorless, odorless gas. Lately in Oregon we have been able to see particulates in the air in the form of haze and smoke from the multiple wildfires scattered throughout the state. The two local fires, Civic Stadium and Southtown Lanes, increased the smoke making it possible to smell and even taste the pungent smoke that permeated the air over South Eugene and beyond. The media, which includes me, reported the Air Quality Index every day to warn the public of the dangers of exposure to the smoke.

Where did we obtain the numbers that expressed the severity of the particulate pollution? LRAPA (Lane Regional Air Protection Agency) provided the data. What is LRAPA and what does it do? We’ll start with some background information. LRAPA was created in 1968 to “achieve and maintain clean air in Lane County, Oregon in a manner consistent with local priorities and goals. With the support of its member entities, which include Lane County and the cities of Eugene, Springfield, Cottage Grove and Oakridge, LRAPA carries out its mission to protect and enhance air quality through a combination of regulatory programs and activities,” according to their website. Their mission is to: “protect public health, community well-being, and the environment as a leader and advocate for the improvement and maintenance  of air quality in Lane County.”

Air Quality Measuring Site | Photo by LRAPA
Air Quality Measuring Site Willamette Activity Center, Oakridge| Photo by LRAPA

LRAPA has seven monitoring sites to measure the air quality in the area. The locations are 943 Wilkes Drive, Eugene; HWY 99, Eugene; Amazon Park, Eugene; Springfield City Hall, Springfield; Delight Valley School, Saginaw; Cottage Grove City Shops, Cottage Grove; and Willamette Activity Center, Oakridge.

Sun Through Smoke Over South Eugene | Photo by Tim Chuey
Sun Through Smoke Over South Eugene | Photo by Tim Chuey

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is the measure used to determine the severity of air pollution at a given time and to give the public the information necessary to protect themselves from the effects of the various pollutants. Strong high pressure gave us an easterly airflow (offshore) which in meteorological terms means winds coming from the east and blowing westward. The easterly flow sent smoke from wildfires east and northeast of us right into the Willamette Valley and the Columbia Gorge. The airflow finally shifted to westerly (onshore) and the air quality improved greatly.

The AQI for the three reporting stations peaked on August 22nd and 23rd. For Saturday August 22nd the values were in the Unhealthy category measuring Particulate Matter for Eugene/Springfield (144) and Cottage Grove (108). For Sunday August 23rd the AQI for Eugene/Springfield was 188, Cottage Grove was 179, and Oakridge was 171 all of which were in the Unhealthy category.  AQI values are measured on a scale from 0 to 500 where 0-50 is Good, 51-100 is Moderate, 101-150 is Unhealthy for Sensitive groups, 151-200 is Unhealthy, 201-300 is Very Unhealthy, and 301-500 is Hazardous.

By the weekend our air quality was back to the good category mainly due to the shift in wind direction, but getting the first measurable rain since June 3rd helped even more. For the Eugene Airport 0.23 inches of rain Saturday & Sunday combined while my rain gauge measured 0.09 inches for those same two days. Not much, but it is a good start. Now we just have to hope the rainy season does get started in earnest and that we don’t see temperatures back into the 90s that could dry things out even more.

LRAPA does gives out other vital information, but I’ll leave that for another time.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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