A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

11 September 2017

Another Flathead Valley football smoke bowl is averted

Two years ago, in a fit of football über studenten sicherheit, football crazed Glacier High School played a football game in the smoke at Concussion Flats (aka Legends Field) in Kalispell despite an air quality designation of Very Unhealthy at the kickoff.

There was no Smoke Bowl in Kalispell last week. Glacier was in Bozeman, where the air was suitable for heavy breathing. And it’s possible school officials came to their senses sufficiently to subordinate athletic entertainment to protecting the health of student athletes and high school football fans. I hope so, but in my experience, high school coaches and administrators are slow learners these matters.

Whether there were no games by accident, or by design, it’s good the football flats were unoccupied last Friday — the air in the Flathead was twice as bad as it was two years ago (2015 graphs).


Highway 93 at 1633 MDT on 5 September.

The graphs below display the concentrations of PM 2.5 particulates at the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s air monitoring station on the southern end of the campus of Columbia Falls high school. There also are monitoring stations at Flathead Electric in Kalispell, and just west of where Highway 93 crosses the Whitefish River south of Whitefish. The DEQ does not publish the hourly results for the Whitefish and Kalispell stations, but should as the Columbia Falls station is near the northwest corner of the Flathead airshed (map).


Smoke rolls north along the Swan Range in this photograph made at approximately 1900 MDT along Three Mile Drive northwest of Kalispell. The official record for the air monitoring station at Columbia Falls will report good air for the Flathead, but this image proves that the air next to the high school in Columbia Falls is not always a good proxy for the rest of the Flathead.

The data for the graph are available at http://svc.mt.gov/deq/todaysair/. That page contains a link to a description of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's NowCast averaging method. In the graphs below, the NowCast average is a very close approximation of a three-hour rolling average (see the final two graphs)

PDF for printing

Although the official air quality designation is based on the NowCast average, it's useful to plot the one-hour averages along with the NowCast numbers. Note that twice the one-hour average soared into the hazardous zone.