Smoky haze lingers, helps spur summertime blues

Published: Monday, Aug. 20 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

Bad air over the Wasatch Front Monday, Aug. 20, 2012.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — More than 30 large wildfires burning in seven western states have swamped the skies throughout the region with murky haze, giving new cause for the summertime blues and prompting some state public health agencies to issue alerts.

Although unappealing visually, much of the air over Utah on Monday had not reached an "unhealthy" status for pollutants, but voluntary advisories were issued for much of the Wasatch Front, asking residents to curtail driving and other smog-producing activities.

"It is pretty hazy outside," said Division of Air Quality spokeswoman Donna Kemp Spangler. "But the health issue is not as bad as it looks."

She added that the "yellow" classification for moderate air pollution levels is intended as a caution for residents — a reminder that pollution is building and people can take steps to limit their contributions to the problem.

"Consolidate your errands, that is going to help by driving smarter," Spangler said.

Smoke from western wildfires is helping to make the Wasatch Front's typical smog problem in the summer appear even worse.

"It just looks awful outside," she said.

Of course, the very young, the very old, and people with respiratory conditions should take proper precautions as well, she added. "They will feel the effects of it."

This summer has made it clear that smoke and air pollution aren't hemmed in by state boundaries, with Montana officials crediting Idaho as the main reason for their hazy skies and Colorado environmental health authorities pointing to states west, including Utah, as the primary haze contributor.

"When we have that west to east flow that we typically have, the smoke is transported from other states," said Eric Schoening, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. "It is having a widespread impact on everybody in the West."

Such persistent hazy conditions can be accompanied by a down-in-the-dumps feeling, especially with summer starting to wind down and children getting ready to begin another school year.

"It would not technically qualify as depression, but the doldrums," said John Malouf, clinical psychologist with Valley Mental Health. "And not being able to see the mountains, when you feel closed in, your mood gets affected by that."

Both Malouf and Spangler said there are ways to counter that funk that may strike because of all the haze out there swallowing up the view.

Spangler said it always helps to engage in fun, home activities with children such as reading, and Malouf suggested changing up the day to include spontaneous outings such as dinner or the movies.

"Realize it is just a funk," he said, "and don't believe all the negative thoughts you may have."

It may help, too, that Tuesday's forecast calls for a chance of rain, and that change in the weather pattern with a little wind and a little precipitation may chase some of the  haze away.

Schoening said that storminess — which could hang around at least through Thursday — might be enough to shake up the stagnant air and provide some relief.

"It is hard to get the smoke out of here when there is really not much wind or rain to clear things out," he said. "It may not clear it out completely, but some good rainstorms certainly would not hurt."

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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