Air Quality Forecasting

How is air quality forecasted and how can the weather impact the levels of air quality?
Published: Jun. 2, 2023 at 8:55 AM EDT
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PRESQUE ISLE, Maine (WAGM) - Air quality can impact daily life. It’s forecasted every day around the county including here in the County, but how is it calculated and how can the weather impact the levels of air quality? Vanessa Symonick spoke to an air quality forecaster for the Maine DEP to find out.

Martha Webster: “Air quality is a term used to refer to how many pollutants if there are pollutants in the air.”

Martha Webster is an air quality forecaster for the DEP in Maine. She says air quality is typically broken down into various categories.

Webster: “Good, moderate, and unhealthy for sensitive groups are the lowest three categories for the air quality index and that’s what the EPA uses and each of the pollutants have a formula to calculate what level is that in the good range, what level is that within the moderate, and what level is that in the unhealthy for sensitive groups”.

She says the primary pollutants here locally in the state of Maine are ozone and particulate matter. So how is air quality forecasted? She says it’s similar to how the weather is forecasted.

Webster: “The first things I do is I’m looking at what are the current ozone and particle pollution values not just in Maine, but around the country because of course whatever’s upwind is going to be brought to Maine. I have to have a sense for what the conditions are like currently”.

She says the weather forecast plays a huge role in how high or low the levels of air quality will be.

Webster: “What’s the current weather situation like? Where are the highs? Where are the lows? How are things moving because of how ozone and particle pollution can be transported and enhanced because of the transport. Are there a lot of clouds then maybe ozone levels won’t be so high”.

In addition to cloud cover rain and snow can also play a role in changing the values of air quality.

Webster: “Shortly after we’ve had a snowfall event, that fresh snowfall can reflect sunlight, so you are getting the UV radiations that are coming from the sun plus you are getting the radiation that’s being reflected from the snow and that enhancement in the UV can be enough to push ozone into the moderate range. A true rain is probably going to clean out particle pollution”.

For more information about the air quality forecast you can visit Vanessa Symonick Newssource 8.