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Atlanta's post-July 4th smoke levels worst on record

Weather conditions and likely increased usage of fireworks on the evening of the 4th of July combined for unhealthy air.

ATLANTA — A few times this summer air quality values have dropped to unhealthy levels but not because of the usual big-city smog.

The first drop was because of Saharan Dust that blew through at the end of June.

The second and even worse than the dust plume was the morning of July 5.

A set up of weather conditions and increased fireworks usage caused particulate matter air quality levels in Fulton County to be the worst on record for the day.

Credit: EPA/WXIA

For the Atlanta metro, including Atlanta, Sandy Springs, and Roswell, it was the worst post-fireworks air since 2007.

Credit: EPA/WXIA

Anything greater than 100 is considered unhealthy for people who are sensitive to changes in air quality.

More fireworks, more smoke

Fireworks usage leading up to the 4th was more than usual, you may have noticed.

Gwinnett County Police said they received 132 calls about fireworks in 2019, but 313 in 2020. Cobb County Police also saw an increase from 55 fireworks complaints in 2019 to 219 in June of 2020. 

With many cities canceling their public fireworks displays, people bought more fireworks to have their own celebrations.

Phantom Fireworks reported their sales doubled across all 80 stores in the U.S. 

The weather's role

The weather step up was ideal to trap all the smoke at the surface.

Credit: WXIA

At night, the surface of the earth cools off while the layer of air just above the surface remains warm, stopping any smoke from escaping higher. This called an inversion.

A combination of the inversion, high pressure (air above pressing down onto the earth's surface), light winds, and high humidity did not allow for the air to clear out overnight.

The smoke was so prevalent, the weather station at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport reported smoke and haze for 11 hours, even reducing visibility for airplanes.

Credit: WXIA

Thankfully a bulk of the time when air quality was poor there weren't many people outside as it occurred overnight and early in the morning.

Air quality levels improved later in the morning on July 5.

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