Why the Twin Cities' air quality is worst it's been all year

Categories: Environment
airquality.JPG
MPCA
This is the first time in 2014 this map has featured an orange blob over the Twin Cities.
Today, for the first time in 2014, the Twin Cities is under an "orange" air quality alert. That means breathing the air could be unhealthy for sensitive groups.

Reached this morning, Cassie McMahon, air quality research analyst for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said that unfortunately, relatively poor air quality is just a fact of life in the upper midwest this time of year.

"We typically consider our most intense fine particle season to be between November and March, but because it's been so cold this winter and we haven't had a lot of warm up we've actually had a very clean winter for fine particle pollution," McMahon said. "It's important to note today isn't a unique day for fine particle emissions, it's just a combination of normal emissions interacting with a weather condition that allows the pollution level to build up."

What weather condition is she referring to, you might be wondering? Basically, one where melting snow interacts with relatively warm air to create a type of lid effect.

"In winter when there's lots of snow, colder surface temperatures have a layer of warm air above, and that warm air acts like a lid," McMahon said. "What also happens is when the snow melts, it adds moisture to the air, and for fine particles it acts like a sponge and cold hold them in place and enable them to build up."

That "sponge effect" becomes especially pronounced when the wind isn't blowing, McMahon explained.

It should be noted that today's relatively poor quality isn't just impacting Minnesota, as Bob Moffitt, director of media relations for the American Lung Association in Minnesota, told us.

"This particular system is a huge one encompassing several states," said Moffitt, who we've normally talked to in the context of smoking-related stories. "It's part of the polar vortex that's been freezing us but keeping air clean, but it moved out and warmer air moved in carrying quite a bit of pollution from Oklahoma up to Fargo, all across the middle of the country."

On Twitter, Moffitt gave Minnesotans some practical advice: -- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at arupar@citypages.com.


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23 comments
Nathan Brening
Nathan Brening

Seems people are on the right track as far as pollution being the main contributor to the poor air quality. Think about this people and start a journal as to how many days in a row you can count that Geo Engineering is NOT happening. Last month I found like 9. So the other days the air was filled with Aluminum and Barrium. Those 2 things are horrible for air quality and = air pollution.. It's simple to see your being posioned. It must stop! https://www.facebook.com/PatriotNewsII/photos/a.314494305328082.68420.314493905328122/483956841715160/?type=1

Saadya Nothing
Saadya Nothing

Hey Nathan Brening, think this has anything to do with the "snow"??

Rajean Moone
Rajean Moone

I'd blame it on wind blowing pollution from the Dakotas, but I realized no one lives there to make pollution.

Rachel Christine
Rachel Christine

Yes the air particles are almost as thick as the ads on the CP website. Sorry pages, but your articles are overshadowed by the muck of advertising.

Jean Claude Cau
Jean Claude Cau

It's a beautiful sunny day, 39F, and the air seems fine to me.

Anthony Christensen
Anthony Christensen

Fukushima cover up. Don't breath the air today cause a radioactive plume is upon us.

Jeff McCabe
Jeff McCabe

Must of been all that air trapped in the metraodome

Jamie Ann Kehren-Twaddle
Jamie Ann Kehren-Twaddle

People are bored. And this is just a lame story so people dont talk about how shitty our president is instead.

Bryan McCutchan
Bryan McCutchan

Geeze. I get the hint! I'll hold it in next time. Sorry.

robert.moffitt
robert.moffitt

as I told Aaron, we're producing particulate pollution all the time. The single largest source of air pollution in Minnesota is vehicle exhaust. Both coal burning (power plants) and wood burning (fire pits, etc.) contribute to the problem as well. The air quality should get better with a change in the weather patterns.  But don't expect the bad air to go away until we make some changes.

CinBlueland
CinBlueland topcommenter

It's Aaron's fault! This is what happens when liberal CP bloggers go on conservative radio!

Ashley Ghilardi
Ashley Ghilardi

These fine particles are mostly due to wood smoke. Burning wood is terrible for the environment. So when people heat their homes in the winter, it makes it that much worse.

Steve Gansen
Steve Gansen

That explains the funky smell. I thought somebody burned popcorn in the breakroom microwave.

Alex Chhith
Alex Chhith

Lyra Fontaine Rachel Hansen Ayaka Nishi maybe this is why we've all been coughing

robert.moffitt
robert.moffitt

I don't mean to give folks a scare, but there's some bad stuff floating in our air. If we made no changes, we all would be fools! So let's take a another look at alternative fuels.

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