What You Need To Know About 2020’s Ozone Season

Ozone forms with NOx and VOCs separate on hot summer days and reform as a pollutant that damages lungs. By Amber Qalagari

The question I wanted to know as Utah’s ozone season approached—yes, there is an ozone season in Utah—is what can we expect? I web-conferenced with Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality meteorologist Kimberly Kreykes to discuss what Utah residents should know about ozone, how they can stay safe, and what they can do to reduce harmful ozone from the atmosphere.

But first, that burning question…

Her answer was simple, there is no way to know. “Ozone forecasting is so reactionary and while the chemical reaction doesn’t change, the chemistry (weather patterns, plants, new cars, regulations etc.) does,” said Kreykes. This is why her team looks at everything from fires, biogenics, right down to gusts of wind to accurately monitor and report ozone in real-time.

To prepare yourself for ozone season it’s important to first learn the basics.

Understanding Ozone

What Is Ozone? Ozone (03), a colorless gas, is formed when hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides chemically react in the presence of sunlight and heat.

Good Ozone: The stratospheric or “good” ozone layer extends upward from about 10-30 miles above the earth’s surface. This layer protects life on earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

Bad Ozone: Ozone found in the troposphere, the layer that extends from the Earth’s surface to about 10 miles up, is an air pollutant that is the key ingredient in summertime smog and haze and can cause damage to vegetation and human health.

How Does It Form? Bad ozone is the result of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) interacting with intense sunlight. The greater the NOx and VOCs that are present the more “bad ozone” is created. NOx and VOCs are emitted by:

  • Cars & trucks
  • Wildfires
  • Power plants
  • Industrial facilities
  • Household products
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Paints & solvents
  • Other urban emissions

Get Prepared: Since we already know that the severity of Utah’s ozone season can’t be predicted, there are ways to better prepare yourself for what’s coming by looking at historical data. Here is a basic guideline of what a typical Utah ozone season looks like:

Average Timeline of Utah’s Ozone Season

Inversion season has ended & spring ozone has begun.

April – Mid May

Strings of “Good” days separated by a “Moderate” day or two.

Things get hotter, dyer & more stagnant creating summer ozone.

End of May – June

More strings of “Moderate” days intermixed with “Good” days.

Peak heat & stagnant air results in high ozone.

July – Early Sept

Stronger likelihood of “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” days with “Voluntary” & “Mandatory” actions in place.

Weather cools & more precipitation lowers ozone.

Mid Sept – Oct

Fewer “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” & “Moderate” days with increasing good days.

How To Stay Safe

Exposure to ground level ozone can irritate your respiratory system, reduce lung function, and aggravate asthma. It can even inflame and damage lung cells, aggravate chronic lung diseases, or cause permanent lung damage. Make sure to do the following to ensure you and your family stay safe this summer.

  • Check Air Conditions: Make sure to regularly check air quality conditions, especially before going outside, on air.utah.gov, or download the free UtahAir App for Android or iOS. Conditions are updated by the hour and daily health and action forecasts are given twice a day at 8 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. or as conditions change.
  • Avoid Peak Ozone Times: Ozone tends to peak in the afternoon and early evening. Plan your travel and outdoor activity during the morning or late evening especially if you have any respiratory or cardiovascular medical conditions.
  • Stay Indoors on Red Days: Even if you are in good health it’s important to limit time outdoors as much as possible when the health forecast is in the red or above. If possible try to telework and schedule all errands for a cleaner air day.

How You Can Help

An easy way to reduce ozone is to follow meteorologist Kimberly Kreykes’ rule of thumb, “ if you can save money doing it, you are probably using less fuel and combustibles and therefore helping our air quality.” You can’t change the weather but you may be able to adapt a few of these ozone reducing habits, and even save yourself some money.

  • Drive Less: Instead of traveling by car, opt for public transportation or a warm-weather favorite, by foot or bike. If you must use a car try to trip-chain.
  • Purchase Low-VOC Chemicals: From what you use to clean the windows on your home to the tires on your car, many cleaning products contain chemicals that can create ozone and fine particulates. Follow EPA’s list of safer products or learn how to make your own!
  • Replace Your Mower: Your gas lawn mower is a small engine that has a big impact on our air quality. Switch to electric by participating in our lawn mower exchange program.
For 47 more ways to help reduce ozone follow these suggestions.
For more resources on ozone please visit air.utah.gov.
Picture of Amber Qalagari

I am a public information officer for the DEQ and an avid explorer and protector of our Earth.  I tell stories with words, graphics, paint, ink and animations. Follow me on Instagram and Twitter at @amberqalagari.