It's ironic that the band Kansas had a hit with "Dust in the Wind."
Certainly, Kansas has its share of windy days that put a lot of dust in the wind but the drought has made monitoring that dust important for those with respiratory issues.
Rain helps clean the air and reduce the amount of particulate matter. As the drought continues, more and more matter gets air borne. Without rain to help clear the air, the need to check air quality becomes more and more important.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment continually monitors the air quality across the state, said Tom Gross, KDHE chief of monitoring and planning in the air bureau.
The KDHE monitors particulate matter at 10 microns and 2.5 microns that are carried through the air to the lungs and alveoli (air cells in the lung) where they can cause respiratory issues.
The air is monitored with paper that filters the air for a 24-hour period. The paper is weighed before and after to the testing period to determine the amount of matter in the air.
The filters are taken to a laboratory where temperature and humidity are controlled to make sure the weights are accurate. The filters are measured before and after the matter is removed.
Monitors look at data on an hour-by-hour basis. The data is collected from all over the state and posted on the web site.
The standard over a 24-hour period is 150 micro grams per cubic meter. On most days the test numbers fall within the standard level even with the drought conditions.
However, when the wind speed increases so does the amount of matter in the air. Without rain, more matter is picked up and creates a problem.
A recent wind event covered three states and pushed the numbers way above the standard count. For most of a day, a weather system caused sustained winds of 40 mph with higher gusts reaching into the 50 mph area.
While Kansas has lots of windy days, the combination of high wind and dry conditions created some very high readings.
During that event, Wichita monitors registered levels of matter that were just short of 200 micro grams per cubic meter.
The monitors around Wichita recorded amounts at 199, 197, 193 and 176. They were some the highest readings in years.
"We can go many, many years without seeing numbers that high," Gross said. "It's pretty rare."
The dust was so thick that it sometimes obscured traffic on the highway and even caused a multiple car accident in Oklahoma.
Readings that high are a danger to those most susceptible to breathing problems such as the elderly, the young, people with asthma and other respiratory issues and those with heart conditions.
Page 2 of 2 - While high wind conditions are unusual, other yearly events also increase the particulate matter in the air.
During harvest time, grain dust gets into the air and can cause localized increases. The annual burning of the Flint Hills also puts matter in the air.
These air quality conditions can aggravate existing health conditions and people could find themselves reaching for an inhaler or going to the hospital, Gross said.
To help keep the public informed about high levels of particulate matter, KDHE has a web site that provides air quality information.
Just go to www.kdheks.gov and click on Environment. By "Air" click on "Air Monitoring Data/Air Quality Index" then click on "Go to Data" and a map will come up of the entire state and the air index stations.
Each station has a color rating from green for good all the way to purple for hazardous. At a glance a visitor to the web site can see the current air quality conditions and determine what they should go out or stay indoors.