Smoke haze settles over Central Montana

News-Argus Managing Editor
Friday, August 3, 2018

The view of the Judith Mountains north of Lewistown is blurred by wildfire smoke Thursday afternoon.

Photo by Deb Hill

A map shows the location of the many wildfires burning in states west of Montana, and the few in Montana, all of which are causing smoke in Central Montana.

Map courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center


Smokey skies and lower air quality began to impact Central Montana this week. As has been the case for the past several summers, the smoke is a result of wildfires to the south and west, so it may last throughout the month.

“The smoke is impacting our area from fires in California, Oregon and Idaho,” said Meteorologist Jan Fogleman, who works for the National Weather Service in Great Falls.

Fogleman said winds from the southwest are bringing the smoke into Central Montana.

“We could see the smoke lessen this weekend, as an area of low pressure is moving in from Canada, and winds will become more northwesterly,” Fogleman said. “After the low pressure moves out, we may see winds shifting to be more from the west, but if the high pressure builds back in, with winds from the southwest, we can expect the smokey skies to return.”

Fogleman said fire activity in Montana remains light, but there are a few fires in the western part of the state. Still, she said, the majority of the smoke is coming from the West Coast fires.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality monitors air quality across the state, and posts daily results on its website:

Air quality in Central Montana moved down a grade, to the “moderate” level, on Thursday this week. According to the DEQ website, moderate means a visibility of 8.8 to 13.3 miles. Small particulate matter in the air can be an issue for unusually sensitive people. Those with heart or lung disease and older adults might have problems, and should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion outside.

“At least it’s not as bad as last year,” said Doug Kuenzli, supervisor for DEQ’s Research and Monitoring Section. “Last year was horrible; one of the worst.” 

Kuenzli said his section is involved in air quality monitoring to ensure the state is in compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency standards.

“The monitoring we do gets little state funding,” he said. “Most of our funding comes from the EPA.”

In the wintertime, Kuenzli said air quality issues are mostly located in mountain communities where temperature inversions and wood-burning stoves or fireplaces combine to create poor conditions.

These days summer brings its own air quality issues, and DEQ monitoring devices across the state pick up the influence of wildfires.

“Hopefully we’ll get some rain, or the wind patterns will shift, so the smoke decreases,” Kuenzli said. “Until then, we can expect to have smoke.”



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