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What is an Ozone Alert?

Tulsa SkylineFor the last couple of days Oklahoma City and Tulsa have been under ozone alerts, but what does that mean? Well, you may have heard it also called an air pollution alert. It means, there is an unhealthy concentration of ozone pollution.

Ozone is a colorless gas that naturally exists in the earth’s upper atmosphere and protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. However, when ozone is found near the earth’s surface it’s called ground-level ozone and it’s a harmful air pollutant. You may also know ozone as “smog”. While the term “smog” originally describe the combination of fog and smoke, today what we call “smog” is largely ground-level ozone.

Ground-level ozone is a human health threat. Everyone is vulnerable to ozone but children, the elderly, people who work outside, and people with respiratory conditions are at a particularly high risk. Ozone can cause lung problems and eye irritation. During an alert it is best to avoid outside activity, especially if you are in the high risk group.


The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality forecasts ozone alert days using a number of factors that includes temperature, cloud cover, build-up of emissions in the air, wind speed and direction, temperature, and other factors. Around Oklahoma, we tend to see ozone alerts May through September. Ozone alerts are more common on hot days, which is why we are having a lot right now and why we saw a large number last year.

How You Can Help on Ozone Alert Days

Ground-level ozone is hard to control because a lot of the problem is caused by weather. However, ground-level ozone forms when the weather is right and there are other pollutants. Many of these pollutants we can help control, here is how you can help.

  • Combine trips when driving, avoid driving when you can, use public transportation, or carpool.
  • Refuel vehicles, lawn equipment, and gas cans carefully and avoid spilling. It’s also best to refuel in the evening when the air is cooler and ozone is less likely to form.
  • Avoid idling our vehicle. Idling emits more pollutants than restarting a warm motor.
  • Avoid mowing your lawn during ozone alerts and try to mow in the evening. Lawn mowers create more pollution than cars! You can also help by using greener lawn equipment, like battery powered mowers.

These small things can make a big difference! You can find out if you are under an ozone alert by checking the Weather Channel and often local news. Stay safe and aware this summer!

What do you do to help on ozone alert days? Share your tips in the comments below or join the conversation on Facebook.

Photo Credit: liberalmind1012


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Lisa Sharp is the founder of Green Oklahoma. She is passionate about the environment and improving Oklahoma for future generations. She also writes on her personal blog Retro Housewife Goes Green.
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