Summer in the Valley: ‘Heat’ and ‘smog’ familiar (if not infamous) four-letter words

Heat and smog are no strangers to the San Joaquin Valley of California and its denizens this time of the year. As a matter of fact, in the Valley the heat is on and for that matter so too is smog.

Reasons for the heat and smog are pretty straightforward.

640px-California's_Central_Valley“Valley geography as it were in this case consists of a bowl, essentially, surrounded on its east, west and south sides by mountains that traps and holds, sometimes for weeks at a time, summertime Valley pollution and haze,” as expressed in “Naturalist’s view of San Joaquin Valley, California air pollution from high, high up.” When coastal marine layers finally do work their way east and into the Valley, high temperatures and smog subside some.

Over the next few days temperatures are expected to go from a high of 108 degrees Fahrenheit today (in Fresno) to a high of 111 degrees on Monday and Tuesday of next week before coming back down. Previous temperature records could be broken, with new ones being set. It may be helpful to understand that the Air Quality Index (AQI) in the Valley likewise is on the rise with those numbers expected to soar into the triple digits too thereby driving the Index into the “Unhealthy for sensitive groups” range. In the Valley this time of year, ozone is the primary pollutant of concern.

For added insight, according to California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board data, in all of 2011 in the San Joaquin Valley Air Basin, exceedances of the state 1-hour and state 8-hour ozone health standards were 90 and 125, respectively, while exceedances of the federal 8-hour ozone standard numbered 106. This compares to 79, 124 and 102 exceedances, respectively, of the state 1-hour, state 8-hour and federal 8-hour standards. It is plain to see there were more exceedances in 2011 than in 2010. Data, meanwhile, for both 2012 and 2013 are preliminary.

The high summertime temps and high concentrations of smog appear to go hand-in-hand.

Cow_female_black_white[1]“Traffic exhaust and fumes from gasoline, paint and dairy waste collect and stew,” The Fresno Bee environmental reporter Mark Grossi in “Stiffer rules could speed cleanup” wrote. “The mess can simmer for days, forming a nasty brew of corrosive ozone that damages skin, eyes and lungs.” Ozone is a main ingredient in smog and that which sits close to the ground is typically referred to as “ground-level ozone.”

So what steps can be taken to try to beat the heat and deal with and perhaps even reduce smog?

For those opting to endure the heat by staying at home, cranking up air conditioners and partaking in inviting backyard pool waters (for those that have them) seems par for the course. Adding fans to the artificial cooling equation can help.

Local lakes and public swimming hotspots see their fair share of heat refugees. Other places to seek refuge from the oppressive heat are area cooling centers. Grocery stores (in the frozen foods sections) or air conditioned shopping malls and movie theaters suffice as well as do libraries when they are open.

What to watch out for

Cutting back on electricity use during times of extreme heat can be a big help. This may mean setting a thermostat at a higher temperature before the air conditioner kicks in. By doing this, it can help place less of a load on the electric grid and help one keep electricity costs lower. Depending on how electricity supplied to homes, business and industry in state is generated this will determine what the impact on the air is. Brownouts and blackouts caused from an overloaded power grid can throw a monkey wrench into the cooling picture and in a hurry.

Those who will drive to places to try to keep cool, while in transit, will likely be relying on vehicle air conditioning systems to provide car interior comfort. Over use of such cannot only reduce vehicle gas mileage performance, but can also result in increased emissions spewing into the air. Plus, evaporation of gasoline from the tank is also a concern and during times when vehicles are parked or out-and-about in direct sunlight, especially. I would also tend to believe engines under extreme heat, even without the air conditioning turned on, work harder.

If driving can be significantly cut back (in 2005, as many as 77.176 million vehicle miles were logged every day in the eight county San Joaquin Valley region according to information in “The California Almanac of Emissions and Air Quality”), then this should go a long ways toward not adding to the air pollution problem.

Staying cool, calm and collected under extreme Valley heat doesn’t necessarily mean air pollution likewise has to be extreme. As presented above, steps can definitely be taken to make air pollution less intense and not just here, but elsewhere too.

– Alan Kandel

This post was last revised on Jan. 9, 2020 @ 4:45 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.