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The science behind air quality alerts: hot, sunny days are key

NOW: The science behind air quality alerts: hot, sunny days are key

On a hot, humid day, you've probably seen an air quality alert pop up on your phone. What exactly does this mean? Will this impact you?

Air quality alerts are issued for days with more pollution particles in the air. Some particles come from natural things, like smoke, dust, or sand. Humans also add lots of particles because of car and factory emissions.

A hot summertime stretch with little rain is a key ingredient for air quality becoming a concern.

When sun mixes with pollutants in the air, it creates smog. Smog hangs in the air and reduces air quality. Hot temperatures act as a catalyst-- they speed up how quickly the smog is formed. This is why we get smog in the air more quickly on hot days.

Rain usually balances this by washing away some pollutants. Because it has been so dry this month, we haven't gotten this benefit.

With excess smog hanging in the air, it means you are going to breathe in more of these pollutants. Those with medical conditions like asthma or who are sensitive to allergens normally might be most impacted on these days. Older adults and kids might also consider staying inside too.

Although parts of the process are natural, there are many ways you can help reduce air pollutants when there is an air quality alert. These are known as air action days. Most tips include limiting emissions released during the hot hours of each action day.

Avoid driving during the hottest part of the day. Try to carpool, and run all of your errands in the same trip. Avoid going through a drive-thru. If you need to refuel, wait until temperatures are cooling in the evening when emission levels are lower.

Turn your air conditioning a few degrees higher. Limit running your big appliances (like a washing machine or clothes dryer) during peak heating hours. Also, wait to fire up the lawn mower until the sun is setting or early in the morning.

With these simple steps, we can all breathe a little easier on air action days.

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