SALT LAKE CITY — To borrow a line from a popular 1970s song, that mist in your eyes is smoke from a distant fire — Northern California.
The Sanford-Townsend Band couldn't have known in 1977 its one-hit wonder would describe what residents along the Wasatch Front are seeing and are likely to see into September.
"It's depressing," lamented Brian McInerney, senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. "We are going to see remnants of smoke all the way to the end of September."
McInerney said Utah is seeing some residual smoke from local fires, but the fierce storm that blew through Wednesday brought upper atmosphere smoke from out-of-state wildfires.
Storms, which usually scrub the air of pollution, brought the smoke, hail and flash flooding across the state.
McInerney said the Virgin River, which usually runs at 40 cubic feet per second, reached 6,000 feet per second Thursday.
"This is the weather pattern that is only going to get worse. We have long periods of high pressure followed by super-charged storms."
The only good news in this dreary smoke-filled scenario is that pollution levels are only at the moderate stage.
"It looks worse than it is," said Donna Kemp Spangler, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
Spangler stressed that people should still voluntarily reduce their carbon footprint by taking mass transit, carpooling or trip chaining.
The smoke can be harmful to sensitive populations such as the elderly or very young, but the high-level atmospheric "transport" smoke seems worse than it is because it is extremely effective at blocking light, she said.
"It is mostly affecting northern Utah and the Uinta Basin."
On Friday, as the smoke and haze persisted, officials canceled a scheduled soccer match in Cache Valley between Utah State University and Utah. A youth soccer clinic was also postponed to Sept. 14.
As Utah continues to struggle with the effect of wildfires, a Brigham Young University professor and his graduate student are engaged in research to help predict pollution caused from flames scorching the West.
David Lignell, a professor of chemical engineering, is studying soot formation and combustion in an effort sponsored by the Forest Service and U.S. Department of Energy.
His graduate student, Alex Josephson, is working on the project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
"The smoke that you see from wildfires is a combination of evolved gases and soot,” Josephson said in a prepared statement. "When we look at smoke as far as health effects, typically we care about those soot particles; and that’s what we’re modeling.”
Lignell said the research, published inCombustion and Flame,resulted in an advanced model exploring soot formation from coal and various types of biomass that includes straw and pine.
Coupling that model with fire simulation models could ultimately help predict patterns of soot concentrations from fire, he said.
"If you could actively model soot concentrations coming out of a fire, then that gives you information to predict pollution concentrations."
Fires, he added, are incredibly complicated to study.
"Ultimately, understanding the basic physical processes in fires and being able to accurately model them under realistic conditions will aid in predicting smoke emissions and related health effects.”