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Publication Date
1 April 2023

Climate Drivers for Summertime Air Quality Issues in the Intermountain West

Pacific Northwest wildfires and California's high pressure ridge cause Utah's poor summer air quality.
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Spacial patterns of satellite-derived wildfire smokes, air quality estimated from aerosol optical depth, and mid-atmospheric circulation during the unhealthy years, clean-air years, and their difference.

Utah is a fantastic destination for summertime outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, rafting, and sports. Unfortunately, the air quality in Utah can be a concern, particularly for people with asthma, children, and the elderly. Our research has found that the degraded air quality is caused by a combination of factors, including wildfires in the Pacific Northwest and a specific climate pattern.


Although Utah has regulations to manage winter air quality, we need better plans to manage wildfires across many states to improve summertime air quality in Northern Utah. Seasonal air quality forecasts require significant scientific challenges. Our research can help create better air quality forecasts for the summertime.


We studied the PM2.5-based air quality in Northern Utah using local monitoring stations and climate data in observations and model simulations. We found that during specific weather conditions, there will be more unhealthy air quality days in the summer. This happens when there's high pressure in Northern California, which causes bigger wildfires in the northwestern U.S. and produces more smoke due to hot and dry weather. The smoke travels to Northern Utah and makes the air quality worse. Global warming is partly contributing to this problem.

Point of Contact
Yoshimitsu Chikamoto
Utah State University
Funding Program Area(s)