CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - When you talk about air quality and pollution, it can sometimes get confusing to sort through exactly what is going on. Over the past several days in Charlotte, we have seen very poor air quality.
"This event is extraordinary. We have not had a Code Red in the Charlotte area for many years," said Shelly Lanham, Senior Air Quality Specialist.
For many, it was an odd sight driving to work Wednesday with uptown almost invisible. Smoke sat on top of most of the city and the surrounding areas.
"So, they are microscopic particles suspended in the air. They are not all that long-lived if there is a wind," said Lanham.
The issue Thursday was that there is very little wind in Charlotte. But when you get higher up, a strong northwest wind is dropping the smoke right on top of the metro area.
"What happens is they get up to a certain level and, in this case about 1,500 feet, and they get a very uniformed directional flow from northwest to southeast. And that pushes it right into the Charlotte-Metro area," said WBTV Meteorologist Al Conklin.
There is often poor air quality in the summer months caused by ground level ozone.
"We only see that in the summer because you have to have the strong sunlight, the long daylight hours, and the hot temps," said Lanham.
The fires that are burning in the western part of North Carolina and the pollution they bring with them is so much different.
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"The smoke just kind of sits at the surface and really does not mix with the rest of the atmosphere," said Brian Magi, Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Science at UNCC.
Magi compared the high level of pollution we are seeing to what people in Beijing are dealing with. The worst of it is in the morning hours.
"That is when you usually experience the most concentrated pollution because that is when the trapping effect of the weather is the most severe," said Magi.
Magi said the pollution from those fires can travel hundreds of miles, and that is why we may not see relief for days.
He added, "Smoke can travel from here, the Appalachian Ridge all the way out to the Atlantic and beyond."