It’s been a little easier to breathe Utah air this year, data shows

Sep 1, 2023, 2:00 PM

SALT LAKE CITY--- This year, Utah's having less days where air quality is forecasted to push levels...

FILE: Smog blankets the Salt Lake Valley during an inversion, as seen from Little Cottonwood Canyon on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022.(Kristin Murphy /Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy /Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY– This year, Utah’s having less days outside of the healthy or “green” range on the Air Quality Index

According to data from the Utah Division of Air Quality, Salt Lake County has had a combined 97 days, between those that push the yellow or moderate level and those that can get into the red or “unhealthy” level.

For comparison, this is seven days less than 2022, and 37 days less than 2021 where the Wasatch Range was barely visible due to wildfire smoke from California.

The UDAQ breaks down what one may consider “bad air days” by voluntary or mandatory action days.

UDAQ Spokesperson Matt McPherson said on voluntary action days, state workers are encouraged to telework, carpool or take other actions to combat forecasted bad air.  Days forecasted to reach a yellow or moderate in the AQI score are Voluntary days.

Mandatory days are those where state workers are required to work from home to combat bad air. These are the days AQI is forecasted to reach between the orange (unhealthy for sensitive groups) and red (unhealthy) ranges.

In 2023, Salt Lake County has had 42 voluntary and 55 mandatory action days. Last year, in 2022, it was 55 voluntary and 49 mandatory days. In 2021, one of the worst recent air quality years, had 72 voluntary and 62 mandatory action days.

By the numbers, 2023 has been the best air quality year since 2019.

Action day numbers have varied, but are very similar between Salt Lake, Utah, Davis and Weber Counties. Tooele has had 60 voluntary and only four mandatory action days in 2023.

Why is this year going well?

Bo Call, Manager of the Air Monitoring Section, told KSL Newsradio, he thinks one major reason why this year has been easier on the lungs is because of the reduced number of wildfires.

“Wildfire smoke… can tend to exacerbate the ozone,” Call said. “Not having that… we’ve been able to breathe a little bit easier.”

Call also said he thinks the extended spring runoff from the past record snowpack helped calm down wildfire risk and subsequently bad air quality.

As summer fades and cold damp temperatures approach, Call said we can expect worse air quality.

“When we get snow on the ground, and cold temperatures and that inversion. Then that is what triggers the greatest amount of particulate creation,” he said. “Then it kind of sticks with you for a while.”

He said there’s no telling if Utah will see extended periods of inversion at this point, but that the storms making their way across the state throughout the summer have helped. 

Avoid pollution at its worst

If you are sensitive to poor air quality, Call said it’s best to stay inside when it gets bad. Especially in the afternoon. 

“The highest times that you’re going to see ozone during the summer is going to be in the afternoon to late afternoon.”

He also thinks taking action on bad air days helps.

“If someone chooses to not drive… to carpool or stay home… then that’s just that much less pollution that’s getting into our atmosphere,” Call said.

Because at the end of the day, it’s a lot easier to prevent pollution if you don’t generate it in the first place. 

“Anything we can do to lower the amount that our cars emit, or houses emit, or that we choose to emit through our processes, or our actions is helpful,” Call said. 

If you want to keep up with the air quality in Utah, Call said you can download the UtahAir app on your phone.

Clayre Scott contributed.

Related: Utah cities among worst for air quality in the country…but there’s some good news


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It’s been a little easier to breathe Utah air this year, data shows