Our neighbors to the south (Oregon) make use of a simple method to estimate air quality conditions using visibility when you are not near a monitor (or if the nearest monitor is off line).
Estimating visibility using the 5-3-1 Index
Determine the limit of your visual range by looking for distant targets or familiar landmarks such as mountains, mesas, hills, or buildings at known distances (miles). The visual range is that point at which these targets are no longer visible. Ideally, the viewing of any distance targets should be made with the sun behind you. Looking into the sun or at an angle increases the ability of sunlight to reflect off of the smoke, and thus making the visibility estimate less reliable.
Once distance has been determined, follow this simple guide:
- If over 15 miles: The air quality is generally good.
Between 5-15 miles: Air quality is moderate and beginning to deteriorate, and is generally healthy, except possibly for smoke sensitive persons. The general public should avoid prolonged exposure if conditions are smoky to the point where visibility is closer to the 5 mile range.
If under 5 miles: The air quality is unhealthy for young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness. These people should minimize outdoor activity.
If under 3 miles: The air quality is unhealthy for everyone. Young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness should avoid all outdoor activities.
If under 1 mile: The air quality is very unhealthy, and in some cases may be hazardous. Everyone should avoid all outdoor activities.
Using the 5-3-1 Visibility Index
Distance you can see*
An older child
Age 65 and over
A young child
Lung or heart disease
|5 miles||check visibility||minimize outdoor activity|
|3 miles||minimize outdoor activity||stay inside|
|1 mile||stay inside||stay inside|
No matter how far you can see, if you feel like you are having health effects from smoke exposure, take extra care to stay inside or get to an area with better air quality.You should also see your doctor or other health professional as needed.
* less reliable under high humidity conditions
Source: Oregon Wildfire Response Protocol for Severe Smoke Episodes, version 2.0, June 3, 2014