Meteorologist Ray Petelin is back with another home science lesson!By Ray Petelin

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — When you hear about an air quality alert or code orange, often you think of industry and smokestacks triggering issues. Several factors can work together to contribute to bad air quality and smog, though. These include the weather and even your daily routine.

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Let’s look at this a couple of ways. The one we hear about the most in our region is “the inversion”. Under normal conditions, the surface is warmer, and it gets cooler as you go higher in elevation.

However, when there is an inversion, the rising air encounters a layer of warmer air aloft. This means that the air from the surface is no longer warmer than the surrounding air, and it can’t rise anymore. This traps smoke and pollution at the surface. In our area, this can cause bad air quality at any time during the year.

Ozone is also a player. You may be thinking, “I thought ozone was a good thing”. It could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on where it is. Up high in the atmosphere, the ozone layer is great because it blocks the Sun’s harmful radiation.

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When it is closer to the ground, though, it becomes bad for our health! We call that ground-level ozone. According to NASA, ozone is created when sunlight reacts with certain chemicals that are produced by burning fossil fuels. This includes cars and factories. Also, filling up your car with gas on a hot day! When particles in the air combine with ozone, they create smog, and bad air quality. We hear about this a lot during our hotter months.

So, what can we do about it? We can’t do anything about the weather. Obviously, cutting emissions by driving less, using less electricity when possible and finding viable, cleaner ways to produce certain products would help a lot.

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There are little things we can do that can make a big difference. Filling up your car at night, instead of during the day helps by letting gas fumes dissipate before being converted to ozone. Trying to drive and mow in the evening can help too, by cutting further emissions.