Western fire smoke keeping the skies hazy over Southern Utah

A smoky haze produced by western wildfires obscured the mountains above Panguitch, Utah. Aug. 11, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

PANGUITCH — The hazy days of this summer caused by smoke from western wildfires continued Wednesday, creating a smog-like haze from St. George to Panguitch that was more reminiscent of Southern California than Southern Utah.

A smoky haze produced by western wildfires obscured the mountains above Panguitch, Utah. Aug. 11, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The National Weather Service says to expect the haze to continue for at least the next two days. While the smoke has mostly affected the northern part of the state since late last week, meteorologists said a shift in upper atmosphere winds has brought more of the smoke Southern Utah’s way.

“Essentially, the thickest of it moved to the south,” Jon Wilson, with the National Weather Service, told St. George News. He added that because wind patterns usually sustain themselves for a day or two, the haze is not likely to clear by the day’s end. “Whatever ends up happening will stay for a day or a few days before you get a change in the wind patterns. It all depends on the winds not on the ground but higher up.”

Wilson said the weather service’s models indicate at least another day or two of smoky skies. “You’ll still notice haziness through the day tomorrow.”

While the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management is currently reporting more than 75 significant wildfires in the western U.S., the main source of the smoke over Southern Utah is the Dixie Fire that has consumed more than 500,000 acres across four counties in Northern California since July 13. Despite burning for nearly a month, the fire is still just 30% contained. 

For perspective, at this point, the Dixie Fire – named for the road near where the fire started – would have completely burned away all 148,016  acres of  Zion National Park three times over with room to spare. 

And depending on wind patterns, Wilson said it comes down to the containment of that fire without a new major western wildfire popping up before Southern Utah can breathe easier. 

A map showing from blue to purple the concentrations of smoke emanating from the western wildfires into St. George as of Aug. 11 2021. Each red dot indicates a wildfire. | Photo courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, St. George News | Click to enlarge

But speaking of breathing, unlike late last week when the smoke was settling lower and giving much of Utah the worst air quality in the world for a few days, air quality isn’t as much an issue with the smoke this week. Wilson said the smoke entering Southern Utah is more diffused and staying higher in Southern Utah.

“Air quality has been a little worse in Northern Utah. As you get further south, it indicates less concentration in Southern Utah,” Wilson said.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the St. George area actually had good air quality on Wednesday. But the lungs might feel things more further north.

In Panguitch on Wednesday, the mountains above the green farmland were hard to see, obscured by the smoky air.  

Cedar City, at 60 on the air quality index, had slightly worse air quality than the 58 in Downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday. 

That’s still a far cry from the 160 air quality index reported on Saturday in St. George. According to the United Nations Environmental Program, Utah was among the worst air qualities in the world on Saturday, equaling the poor air conditions in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Kabul, Afghanistan.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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