Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Record-setting summer for air quality, but it’s still worst in country

I’m still thinking about ozone and the summer of 2013. I think the good news in California is also the bad news.

The good? Both the San Joaquin Valley and the South Coast Air Basin are poised to set all-time records for the least number of bad days — 86 in the Valley and 90 in South Coast, so far.

The bad? South Coast’s lowest-ever number of eight-hour ozone exceedances is still the worst in the country this year. The Valley’s lowest-ever is second worst. And third place is not even close to South Coast or the Valley.

Antelope Valley is third with 64 exceedances. Coachella Valley is fourth with 48. Houston is fifth with 20.

I checked the number of exceedances for the one-hour ozone standard, too. The Valley has not breached the standard this year, which would be a first if it holds up through the end of the warm season.

South Coast, which includes Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties, had four exceedances of the one-hour standard. Houston had one. I found no others.

A small milestone on the road to eight-hour ozone cleanup

My Sunday story dwelled on the old one-hour ozone standard. The San Joaquin Valley appears poised to achieve it, thus wiping out a $29 million annual federal penalty.

Smoggy summer sky in Fresno.

But what about that other ozone standard — the eight-hour? It looks like this could be a rec0rd-setting year for it. That’s important, and I’ll tell you why in a minute.

First the numbers: If we have six or fewer October or November exceedances for this tougher, eight-hour standard, it would be the lowest total ever recorded here.

The Valley has 86 exceedances, as of Sunday. The record is 93 set in 2010.

Over the last five years, the Valley has averaged a little more than six October exceedances per year — ranging from only two in 2009 to nine in 2011. There have only been two exceedances in November over the last five years combined. There’s a chance the record would be set.

It’s important because it is progress, and we’re talking about human health. The threshold spans eight hours, which is a long time. It’s hard to prevent children or anyone else from being exposed to it at some point during a bad day.

Ozone is a corrosive gas that can scorch the lungs like a sunburn. Aside from triggering coughing and wheezing, it can cause heart arrhythmia that can lead to stroke.

Dozens of people die prematurely in the Valley each year due to ozone exposure, studies have shown. Bottom line, this is a dangerous air pollutant, and the Valley is still many years away from achieving the eight-hour standard for it.

Will the Valley dip below 100 dirty-air days this year?

Fresno’s gritty skyline this September.

The San Joaquin Valley might not exceed the eight-hour federal ozone standard 100 times this year — not exactly a success story anywhere in the country except here or Southern California.

But it is news. It has only happened twice here, according to the records. In 2009, the count was 98. In 2010, it was an all-time low of 93.

The only problem is the weather can be cruel in late September. The last four days of September 2010 were triple-digit nightmares.

The heat continued sporadically that year. There were 10 exceedances after Oct. 1 in 2010 — two of them after Nov. 1.

Flash forward to this year. The total is 77 on Sept. 13. It was 74 on that day three years ago. So there’s a chance the total will be below 100 exceedances this year.

I usually add something about the target being zero exceedances. For now, I’d settle for a shutout for the rest of September, October and November.

It doesn’t rain on June 21 in Fresno — at all

Plan your picnic Friday, you live in Fresno. It’s a good bet you won’t see rain at Woodward Park or anyplace else in the city.

Since weather record-keeping began in the late 1870s, Fresno has never seen rain on June 21.

But that’s not the most interesting part of this trivia. According to the records, June 21 is the only rainless day of the year in Fresno.

In other words, all the torrid, parched days of July and August have seen at least some kind of rain in the last 130 years or so.

“Rain is pretty unusual in the summer for the San Joaquin Valley,” said meteorologist Paul Iniguez of the weather service in Hanford. “But we’ve recorded at least a trace on every day of the season in Fresno, except June 21.”

Iniguez said next month — July — is particularly dry in the Valley. He said there have only been three days since the 1870s when Fresno got more than .10 of an inch of rain. The amounts of rain were .14 of an inch in 1925, .22 in 1992 and .33 in 1913.

“The Valley has a very Mediterranean climate,” he said. “Summers are typically very dry.”

By the way, Friday is the first full day of summer. The solstice happens at 10:04 p.m. Thursday.