Experts say multiple conditions could be playing into hazy, smoky skies in Southern Utah

Mountains less than half a mile away appear hazy in Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 7, 2020 | Photo by Paul Dail, St. George News / Cedar City News

ST. GEORGE — Many parts of Southern Utah have been experiencing hazy, smoky conditions the past couple days, a phenomenon that is likely being caused by tiny particles coming from multiple sources – ranging from currently burning fires to extinguished fires and blowing dust.

Weather alerts and advisories as of 10:59 a.m., Sept. 8, 2020 | Map from National Weather Service- Salt Lake City office, St. George News | Click to enlarge

On Monday, the National Weather Service issued both a high wind warning and red flag warning for Southern Utah, forecasting northerly winds of 30-40 mph, with gusts of up to 60 mph are expected, the strongest being near canyon mouths. These conditions are expected to continue until noon Wednesday. The red flag warning is set to expire Tuesday evening.

Christine Cruz with the National Weather Service told St. George News on Tuesday that the haze being reported in the area is likely due not only to the fires burning in California but also the remnants of a series of local fires that have burned throughout the area.

Cruz said strong winds can kick up the soot and ash from recent fires that have been extinguished. Even though the fires are out, those areas are still covered in loose materials that can be picked up by the wind, and those small particles can make the air appear hazy.

According to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, this loose material, combined with smoke from wildfires, can cause “high concentrations of particulates in populated areas.” If it becomes thick, those with existing heart or respiratory conditions should reduce physical exertion and outdoor activity. If visibility is less than 5 miles in smoke – conditions which were reported in several areas Monday – then it has reached levels that are unhealthy.

The Air Quality Index Health ratings from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, St. George News

The dust and smoke contribute to particle pollution, a complex mixture of extremely small dust and soot particles. Washington County started the day at 35.5, meaning the air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups.

By mid morning, that rating improved and is currently at 30.7, which is moderate air quality. Iron County is also currently in the  moderate range at 16.6. The ratings are updated hourly.

Additionally, with a weather system passing through, the quality index says, there is also the possibility of wind blown dust in the area, which is likely with the wind advisory currently in place.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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