Stagnant air mass impacts dust, pollen in Southeast Missouri

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Dust, pollen and ground-level ozone adding to the distress of people with asthma or other breathing difficulties is likely to get worse over the next week to 10 days, a National Weather Service meteorologist said Thursday.

A stagnant air mass allowing the build up of pollutants covers the Midwest from southern Wisconsin to the Gulf Coast, said Robin Smith, a meteorologist in the Paducah forecast office. The result is a haze that is dulling the sun and creating whitish haze that is reducing visibility.

"This goes quite a ways up into the atmosphere and we're talking 15,000 to 20,000 feet," Smith said.

The haze is visible on satellite images from space, Smith said.

The air quality forced the issuance of an ozone alert in Evansville, Ind., the only city in the forecast office's region that has air pollution monitoring, Smith said. The conditions seen in Evansville are occuring throughout the region, he siad.

The only chance of relief is an approaching frontal system that could reach as far south as Dexter, Mo. and Sikeston, Mo. by late Friday night or early Saturday, Smith said. But the relief won't last and the current hazy conditions should return by early in the week. If the relief does not arrive, he said, the weather service will likely be issuing a heat advisory early next week as temperatures continue to rise in the stagnant air.

Otherwise, he said, "we are really not looking for any relief for the next seven to 10 days."

Ozone at upper levels of the atmosphere protect the Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation and cosmic rays. But when ozone forms at ground level as a result of sunlight hitting automobile exhaust, it adds to the haze that forms smog and creates breathing problems for those with asthma and people who are active outdoors.

"It is quite possible, especially for people with ashtma or a lung disorder, that they can detect some difficulty breathing," Smith said. "Even an ordinary person could feel it if they exercising or working outdoors."

Dry conditions throughout the region are adding to the pollution problem, putting dust into the air, Smith said. One bright spot in the present situation is that there is not much farm field work occurring at this time of year.

"If we had these conditions in the crop season, farms would be putting debris and pollen and dirt and dust," he said. "It would be worse if we had these conditions into late September."

rkeller@semissourian.com

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