Poor air quality in Phoenix on New Year's Day

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – If you woke up with a headache this morning, off-the-charts pollution in the Phoenix area is likely to blame. If you’ve been outside, you’ve undoubtedly seen the haze and possibly even smelled the smoke from New Year’s Eve fireworks.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality had already issued a High Pollution Advisory for the first day of 2021, but early Friday, it extended that warning to Saturday.

While bad air quality levels aren't unusual for this time of year, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality says the weather played a huge factor.

"Now this year we certainly saw a lot of firework use. More fireplaces and our weather pattern is very stagnant," said Matt Pace, an air quality meteorologist. "So this will probably go down as one of the worst air quality days on record as far as New Years is for the Phoenix Valley."

By the end of Friday, ADEQ thinks the Phoenix area will be in the 250 to 300 range when it comes to the air quality index for smoke. That is a 24-hour average.

What can we all do to improve our air quality? Here is some advice from Pace. "Limit your firework use. Maybe not burn your fireplace every single day, especially on high pollution advisory days, and you can also switch over to gas," he said. "Don't drive your car on dirt roads. If you do have to drive on dirt roads, go slower."

ADEQ also has an app called "Air Arizona" that you can use to check the air forecast.

According to ADEQ, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is literally off the chart Friday. A measure of up to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air is in the good range. At 260 on Friday, we were more than five times that. The gauge on the ADEQ website only goes up to 250. The 24-hour average was a little more than 210.

Poor air quality in Phoenix on New Year's Day

Arizona's Weather Authority Meteorologist Ian Schwartz points out where downtown Phoenix is (or should be). A layer of pollution shrouded the city Friday morning.

Arizona’s Weather Authority Meteorologist Ian Schwartz tweeted Friday morning that “Phoenix has some of the worst air quality in the world right now.” Yes, the world. He also showed the haze that was clearly visible as the sun came up. If you were driving early Friday morning, it might have looked almost foggy.

Pollution like this is rough on healthy people and can be downright dangerous for those who have respiratory issues.

“High Pollution Advisories encourage people to limit outdoor activities, reduce driving, and other activities that cause air pollution,” according to ADEQ. “Depending on the severity of the HPA, a larger portion of the population may begin to experience health effects.

Some areas of Phoenix were already well into the unhealthy range before the clock struck midnight. Then came the fireworks celebrating the arrival of 2021. The worst of the terrible air quality was early Friday morning when the inversion layer – that layer of warm air right above the ground – trapped the smoke. As the day warmed up, that inversion started to lift.

“This will allow smoke to disperse from the ground and cause PM2.5 levels to decrease,” explains ADEQ’s Air Quality Hourly Forecast.

Its hour-by-hour chart shows PM2.5 levels dropping significantly Friday afternoon and early evening before increasing again starting at about 7 p.m. and continuing through the night.

The agency says it expected the amount of fine particulate matter in the air to “return to more typical weekday patterns” by the time we get to Monday.


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