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Help clear the air for the new year

The first day of 2015 was forecast to be sunny and cold, which is a great way to start the year, but the clear skies are deceptive. A temperature inversion that traps cold air near the ground means fine smoke particles are trapped, too, and air quality is suffering.

Jackson County health officials declared Wednesday a yellow day because of limited ventilation in the valley and an air quality index of 77, which is moderate. Under the county's woodstove ordinance, only certified woodstoves may be used on yellow days, and then only if no visible smoke is emitted from the chimney.

Longtime residents of the Rogue Valley will recall the days of repeated inversions that sometimes lasted for days or even weeks, trapping choking smoke near the valley floor. The particles that concern health officials are known as PM 10, meaning particles smaller than 10 microns. Those particles are small enough to be inhaled deep into the lungs, where they can lodge and potentially cause health problems.

Changing weather patterns have reduced the incidence of inversions, and the woodstove ordinances adopted in 1989 and 1990 prompted many residents to replace non-certified woodstoves with cleaner-burning, certified models or stop heating with wood altogether. The result of both trends has been cleaner air.

But Wednesday's yellow day declaration is a reminder that inversions do still happen here, especially at this time of year. The sudden arrival of sub-freezing temperatures makes it tempting to fire up the stove, especially on a holiday when family and friends gather to celebrate the new year and watch the Ducks in the first-ever NCAA Division I college football playoff game.

Enjoy the day by all means and, if you have a certified woodstove, keep an eye on that smoke plume. If you don't — or you just want to contribute to keeping the air as clean as possible — please use an alternate heating source if you have one.

The daily advisory is available by calling 541-776-9000.