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Our air quality may get a cleansing

With the ongoing waves of smoke and never-ending heat, we all need a breath of fresh air.

It won’t be a huge change, but with cooler temperatures and a slight ease in air quality expected later this week, that small breath might be coming, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Charles Smith.

“Right now, the air is just poor and really unhealthy outside,” Smith said. “But we’re seeing a slight improvement later on in the week, so cross your fingers.”

Early in the week, however, the air quality is holding at largely unhealthful levels.

According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Air Quality Index, air quality monitoring stations Monday afternoon in Shady Cove, Cave Junction and Klamath Falls were listed as “very unhealthy.” At one point Monday, the air quality in Shady Cove was at 290 on the Air Quality Index — “very unhealthy” and just 10 points below the “hazardous” level of 300. Cave Junction registered a 274 AQI late Monday afternoon.

Consistently Monday, stations in Medford, Ashland and Grants Pass were all listed as “unhealthy.” Late Monday afternoon, they were registering 150 to 170 AQI. The AQI rates air quality from zero to 500, with anything above 100 considered to pose some level of risk.

“This is basically how it’s been the past week: We start off very smoky in the morning and early through later afternoon, and some areas get an extra push of smoke in the later afternoon again,” Smith said. Evening sometimes finds “slightly improved” air quality, often between 9 p.m. and midnight, he said.

Smith said variety or regional fires are bringing in the waves of smoke. Primarily, the Taylor Creek, Garner Complex, Sugar Pine and Snowshoe fires are creating the smoke settling over the area, but upper-level winds are also bringing smoke north from the California fires, he said.

“With so many fires around us and the different altitudes and heights of winds, we are surely seeing smoke from fires here and down south in California,” he said.

But things soon might change for better. First to change, Smith said, is the run of triple-digit temperatures.

“Temperatures are trending cooler later in the week, nearing what is normal for this time of year,” he said. “That should be a nice change.”

Thursday and Friday in Jackson County show temperature peaks in the high 80s, according to the National Weather Service. Tuesday and Wednesday are expected to reach the low- to mid-90s.

The cooler temperatures could provide that breath of fresher air.

“The air quality might — I’m stressing ‘might’ here — not be unhealthy all the time toward the end of the week,” Smith said. “We’re potentially seeing slightly improved air quality, which will be a good break for everyone.”

“Slightly improved” air quality still doesn’t mean “good,” Smith said, but it might improve from the current “unhealthy” and “very unhealthy” levels. Smith encouraged residents to continue exercising caution despite any improvement in air quality.

“Keep limiting all outdoor activities, and if you have any medical issues, make sure you follow medical advice you’ve been given,” he said. “Really, it’s really beneficial to stay indoors whenever possible.”

One other thing people can do to get a break, Smith said, is head west to the coast, or north, far out of the valley, where “air is fresher and all-around cleaner.”

“Overall, plan for smoke to continue, although it might be a bit better this week and as we get into August,” he said. “Assuming we don’t get a new run of fires — so hold out hope.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporting intern Morgan Theophil at mtheophil@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4485. Follow her on Twitter @morgan_theophil.