Q&A: Dr. Marc L. Pitchford on the Rim Fire and Northern Nevada’s Air Quality

A smoky haze from a huge California wildfire lingers in Reno. / Photo by Nicholas Stack

A smoky haze from a huge California wildfire lingers over Reno. / Photo by Nicholas Stack

A smoky cloud has engulfed Northern Nevada over the past few weeks. The smoke, coming from the Rim Fire west of Yosemite National Park in California, has worsened the air quality index (AQI) for the Reno-Sparks area. AQI in the Reno area improved to “moderate” this afternoon after being considered “unhealthy” earlier in the day, according to the Washoe District Health Department.

Nevada Media Alliance’s Nicholas Stack spoke with Dr. Marc L. Pitchford, the Executive Director of Atmospheric Sciences for the Desert Research Institute, on why Northern Nevada is “the air pollution hotspot for the country right now”.

Nicholas Stack (NS): Why is the smoke now lifting out of the Reno-Sparks area?

Dr. Marc L. Pitchford (MLP): A little bit of wind and cleaner air is coming beneath the smoke, so it’s actually that cooler – and somewhat cleaner – air is lifting the plume of smoke that has been over our city.

NS: Are there any aspects of the Rim Fire that makes it unique compared to other fires Northern Nevada has seen?

MLP: The unusual thing I think is not only the size of that fire and the amount of smoke it’s putting out, but the persistence of winds from that direction.

NS: With the current AQI, is it wise to try outdoor activities or to wait until the smoke clears?

MLP: You’re better off staying indoors.

Dr. Pitchford has been involved with air quality monitoring and assessment research since 1974.