Wildfire smoke causes hazy conditions on Saturday
Wildfire smoke causes hazy skies and poor air quality across Nebraska on Saturday
LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Saturday featured plenty of haze across Lincoln. The haze was clearly evident on the Honda of Lincoln around 6:30 PM Saturday.
The culprit behind the haze is smoke from ongoing wildfires in the Pacific Northwest and Canada being transported to Nebraska by the wind. It is these smoke particles that obscured visibility across much of Nebraska on Saturday.
The Air Quality Index (AQI)
The smoke caused some air quality concerns for Lincoln. Air quality is assessed in terms of the Air Quality Index (AQI). An AQI for a pollutant between zero and 50 is classified as “Good” air quality whereas any value over 301 is classified as “Hazardous.”
The AQI is computed for five major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter. These pollutants are monitored and must satisfy the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).
Particulate Matter (PM)
The primary pollutant on Saturday in Nebraska was particulate matter (PM) from wildfire smoke. The EPA defines particulate matter as “the term for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air.” More specifically, “PM2.5” caused most of the air quality concerns.
PM2.5 is a subclass of particulate matter that includes any particle with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers. For perspective, 2.5 micrometers is about 20-30 times smaller than the average diameter of a single human hair. These fine-sized particles are inhalable and too much of them can pose an air quality concern.
Air Quality Concerns on Saturday
At 6 PM Saturday, Lincoln recorded 51 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5. This corresponds to an AQI of 131, which is the orange category. This means that the air was unhealthy for sensitive groups such as those with breathing disorders or the elderly.
At the same time, Grand Island recorded 66 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5, which corresponds to an AQI of 157. This falls in the red category and means that the air is unhealthy for all to breathe in.
These measurements are recorded with units of micrograms per cubic meter. For perspective, one microgram is one million times smaller than one gram – the weight of a paper clip. So it doesn’t take much to worsen air quality!
Short-term computer model guidance suggests that northerly winds should drive the smoke farther south by Sunday afternoon, resulting in better air quality.