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Air Quality Alerts and Advisories: An interview with an EGLE meteorologist

As part of Air Quality Awareness Week, today’s MI Environment story is an interview between Jenifer Dixon, the Air Quality Division’s (AQD) planning and policy coordinator at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), and Alec Kownacki, one of the department's meteorologists, about how Michiganders can keep informed and know what to do if air quality advisories or alerts are issued.

Alec Kownacki headshot.

Alec Kownacki


Q: Alec, last year was a challenging year for you and the other two meteorologists related to wildfires causing high levels of ozone and particulate matter.  In the past we have issued these Clean Air Action days or just Action Days. I have heard there are changes to how we identify risk when air quality is poor. Can you talk about those changes?

A: Yes, definitely. When the forecasting program started in the 1990s, it started as the Clean Air Action Day program. This program was designed to alert people if ozone or particulate matter in the outdoor air was higher than certain levels in the Air Quality Index or AQI. The AQI has six levels ranging from “good” shown with the color green to “hazardous” shown with a maroon color.

When either ozone or PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter) was forecasted to be in the unhealthy for sensitive groups or higher range, we would issue a Clean Air Action Day or Action Day Alert.  The alert would have recommendations for things the public could do to help improve the overall air quality and to aid those who have respiratory illnesses or may be more sensitive to poor air quality.

After last summer we realized that we need to have a system that heightens the awareness when concentrations get to those high levels and gives the public real actions to take to protect themselves.

So, we came up with a two-tier system that includes both Air Quality Advisories and Air Quality Alerts.

Q: How will having a two-tier system help the public understand what is going on with their air quality?

A: When we forecast, we use the AQI. When the forecast shows that levels of ozone, PM2.5 or both of these pollutants in the outdoor air will fall in the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups range – the orange color on the AQI – we will issue an Air Quality Advisory. This could be issued for one or both of these pollutants. When ozone levels are in the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups range, people with existing respiratory conditions are more likely to be impacted.  With PM2.5, in addition to those with respiratory conditions, we are also concerned about those with heart disease, pregnant people, children and teenagers, adults 60 and older, and outdoor workers.

If our forecast shows one or both pollutants will get into the unhealthy, very unhealthy, or hazardous range, then we will issue an Air Quality Alert. In this case, we expect the same groups of people could be negatively impacted, along with a broader range of the general public. These groups are more likely to be impacted if steps are not taken to reduce their exposure.


Air Quality Advisory

Air Quality Alert


USG, 71-85 ppb


Unhealthy and up, 86+ ppb


USG, 35.5-55.4 µg/m3


Unhealthy and up, 55.5+ µg/m3


Q: Will the advisories and alerts come with suggestions on actions people can take to protect themselves?

A: Yes. We had messaging in the past, but after last year we knew it had to change. We worked with staff from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to provide clear actions people can take when advisories or alerts are issued.

For ozone we kept things pretty similar. With that pollutant there are things people can do to help, like not filling their gas tank, not mowing their lawns, driving less or commuting, and not idling their cars.

For PM2.5 it is more complicated. On really smokey days or days with high levels forecasted, there is not much an individual can do to help bring those levels down. PM2.5, unlike ozone, can also get into your home and stay there.  With the help of the health department, we are recommending people take steps to protect themselves and those they care about by preventing smoke from getting indoors while also keeping their houses cool in hot weather. If you can run your forced air system with MERV-13 or higher rated filters on the recirculate setting, or use an air purifier, and keep windows closed.  People should avoid outdoor burning or grilling. We also recommend people avoid activities that worsen indoor air quality such as: burning candles, vacuuming without a HEPA filter, smoking, and using gas, propane or wood-burning stoves and furnaces.

Q: That is a lot to take in. Is there a way people can sign up to get these advisories and alerts? And are there other ways to find out if an advisory or alert has been issued?

A: We have a lot of ways we get the word out. One of the best ways is using the EnviroFlash system. With Enviroflash people can subscribe to at no cost. It lets you put in what city or county you would like alerts for. These alerts will get sent straight to your phone or email.  We try to get the word out as broadly as possible and encourage people to sign up at

We also notify several groups around the state who do their own outreach. We send updates to local news media and the National Weather Service.  These are the notices you find on weather apps through your phone or computer on sites like