Air Quality in the Mid-Atlantic

Air Quality in the Mid-Atlantic

This tool is excerpted from Mid-Atlantic Regional Climate Impacts Summary and Outlook: Summer 2023.

Tool Background

While this was a record-breaking season for poor air quality in the Mid-Atlantic, wildfire smoke may become more common in the region into the future. Globally, the fire season is lengthening and there is a greater area with hot and dry conditions prone to fire.1 Climate projections for North America indicate that there will be both more wildfires and that these fires will burn a greater area than in the past.2

The interactive data tool shown in Figure 1 shows how air quality has changed over time based on a range of air quality thresholds. The figure plots the maximum days within a month for each year from 2000 to present with an AQI above the selected threshold.

Key Findings

  • 2023 is the first year on record that the Mid-Atlantic region had air quality rated as hazardous to human health.
  • The summer months have historically produced the worst air quality in the Mid-Atlantic.
  • Most states experienced at least one month each year with all days at or above the moderate threshold until 2010.
  • For many years, cities saw improved air quality as regulations on emissions from trucks and cars reduced particulate matter pollution. The number of days above the "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups" has been decreasing in many regions between 2000 and about 2016. Wildfire smoke could cause this trend to reverse or stagnate.3

Figure 1. Air Quality in the Mid-Atlantic from 2000-Present

How to Use the Tool

Selecting Air Quality Threshold Use the checkboxes to select which air quality threshold to display.

Selecting State Use the checkboxes to select which state or states to display.

Technical Notes

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began recording air quality data for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in 1999. Data from January 1, 2000 to May 31, 2023 are submitted by monitoring organizations and certified by the EPA's Air Quality System. Data after June 1, 2023 are from the EPA's AirNow system and are not certified. Counties with the worst air quality are listed based on those with the most days above a selected threshold in the tool. Maximum days above the AQI threshold are calculated as the greatest number of days in a month in any county within the selected state. In the tooltip, the average number of days is an average of all stations within that state. Due to data availability, data is missing for some years and states (e.g., Pennsylvania in 2003).

Data were processed by the RAND Corporation to calculate AQI above certain thresholds.

  • Modeled Historic and Future Extreme Temperature – Daily Highs

    This tool is an interactive map of the Chesapeake Bay watershed that provides gridded estimates of modeled historic (1981-2010) and future (2011-2099) extreme temperature, defined as the number of days each year with highs above 90, 95 or 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

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