By Lauren Westmoreland
The Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District (NSAQMD) has published air quality results for December 2020, after a fix on the air sampling equipment was resolved Dec. 8.
Based on the data collected, four days exceeded the daily National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) of 35 micrograms per cubic meter for particulate matter (PM2.5) in December in Portola. This is down from eight days in December 2019.
Again, reliable data is not available for the first eight days of December due to mechanical problems with the air sampler, so there is no way to know if there were any exceedances that week.
The attached chart compares the number of days that PM2.5 exceeded the daily standard, showing improvement in air quality and public health since the wood stove change out program began.
In terms of weather, Plumas County is in the ‘severe drought’ category per the U.S. Drought Monitor. The region had a month that was warmer and drier than average. Since Oct. 1, lower than average precipitation has been recorded for the region. January through April is expected to continue to be warmer and drier than normal. Significant fire potential is normal through April (per Northern California GACC, 12-30-20).
The California Air Resources Board has released the Design Value for the Portola monitoring site for 2019. It appears that as wood stove change-outs increase, less PM2.5 is in the air. These gains were severely impacted by wildfire smoke in 2020 however, and it will be at least February before there is a 2020 update.
Clear the air; check before you light
The annual wintertime burning curtailment program began on Nov. 1, 2020. There were three curtailment days in December.
Long Valley Charter School (LVCS) students and the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District (NSAQMD) raise a flag daily to notify the public of voluntary (yellow flag) and mandatory (orange flag) wood burning restrictions.
A green flag signifies good air quality and no restriction on burning in wood stoves/fireplaces. During curtailment days (November-February), a wintertime health advisory is issued, and a health advisory posted on the District website and on a recorded information line. Suggested actions to protect health are described based on the flag color, known as the Air Quality Index (AQI).
On the topic of burn days, or open burning, City of Portola municipal code 15.10.025 prohibits all open burning of yard waste within the city limits of the City of Portola, with some exemptions including recreational/ceremonial fires.