Weather Blog: KC's air quality problems vs East Coast

Current Smoke.PNG
Posted at 12:26 PM, Jun 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-07 13:26:57-04

Hey, weather blog readers,

Let's talk about air quality problems we've seen across the country.

If you have been watching the news, you may have noticed the air quality is very, very poor on the East Coast.

Kansas City has its own air quality issues, but they come from a different pollution source and are not as bad as the East Coast.

What's going on?

There is a large area of high pressure over the northeastern United States and southern Canada that is advecting, or funneling, the wildfire smoke into the U.S.

Fire Map.PNG

Thus, the process is contributing to incredibly poor/unhealthy air quality downwind (see the areas of orange-purple.)

National Air Quality.PNG

High pressure generally means calm weather with subsidence, or air from the upper levels pushing down, contributing to smoke reaching the surface, giving us hazy pictures like this one below.

Smoke Capitol.jpg

Our air quality problem in KC is also thanks to high pressure, but our responsible high is much closer to home.

Tuesday Surface Map

And while subsidence is occurring over us, the air coming down from the upper atmosphere is not the reason for unhealthy air.

There are three different types of air pollutants:

  1. PM 2.5 — Smoke
  2. PM 10 — Sand
  3. Ozone

PM denotes the size of particles in the air. Smoke particles are relatively small compared to sand or dust.
The ozone we are concerned with is not the layer of atmosphere way above us, known as the ozone layer, but a chemical reaction to organic or non-organic pollutants and sunlight during the day.

So the East Coast is dealing with PM 2.5 and we are dealing with ozone.

PM 2.5 is less reactive to the changes in temperatures throughout the day while ozone development is.

Watch the air become gradually unhealthy Tuesday from morning to afternoon.

Morning AQI
Early Afternoon AQI
Late Afternoon Air Quality

As the chemical reaction from sunlight occurs to create ozone, another atmospheric process called an inversion sets up.


This inversion keeps the chemical reaction at the surface where we live and breathe. Like wildfire smoke, the prevailing wind will also blow the pollution around under this inversion.

When these processes are at their worst, the EPA tells people who are sensitive to ozone to stay inside from late morning to early afternoon.

Usually, the most unhealthy air in town is near the Missouri and Kansas rivers in downtown KCMO and KCK.

This is where temperatures are the hottest and have some of the highest levels of air pollution in the metro. So, it is especially important for those who are sensitive to poor air quality living and working nearby those areas to exercise caution.

I don't see a solid break in the poor air until the weekend when a cold front and widespread rain move in.