November 1 marks the beginning of the wood burning season, and thus the winter air pollution season, in Utah. Bo Call, manager of the Utah Air Monitoring Center, says the state is coming off a summer season that was slightly more polluted than previous summers, but not bad enough to trigger federal penalties.
"This last summer it was a lot warmer, we didn’t have as much moisture as evidenced by our more of a drought situation. And our ozone numbers were higher. Our preliminary numbers show some exceedences of the standard. I think we were still ok because you have to go over the standard four times at a single station before it really counts, and I think we dodged that bullet."
Call says the active fire season across the west, and a spring that was drier than prior years, also contributed to this summer’s air pollution numbers.
Last winter was fairly mild when it came to air pollution in Utah, leading to a lower than average number of red air quality alerts where wood burning is prohibited. Call says winter red air days typically come when there are inversions precipitated by snow on the ground, low temperatures, and a lack of storms. He says this winter is already shaping up to be similar to last year.
"Ideally, what we would really hope for is that we get a storm that pushes through every four to five to six days. That would clean us out, it takes three or four days to build back up, and keep the [pollution] levels down and continue to drop some moisture in the mountains for us."
Voluntary restrictions on wood burning and reduced driving are encouraged on yellow air quality days. Those caught burning wood on red air days face possible fines.