Why Texas summer brings poor air quality

As the temperatures rise and summer settles in, the role humans play in the weather increases. Most days, the air quality is a direct result of human activity.

Air quality can be broken down into 6 categories ranging from good to hazardous. The vast majority of the time Austin lands in the "good" category. In fact, according to Air Central Texas, Austin is the only large city in the country to maintain "good" air quality levels.

Texas’ air quality is affected by three main pollutant classifications: ozone, pm 10, and pm 2.5. All are frequently found in Texas air and all can decrease air quality.


The first main category – ozone – is also found at high levels of the atmosphere and is crucial in protecting us from harmful UV and other intense light frequencies emitted by the sun. At the surface though, it can cause issues and is considered a pollutant.

Ozone is a variant of oxygen that is formed when high heat and intense sunlight causes a reaction between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds. The oxides of nitrogen are created in combustion processes in cars and various industrial uses.  Volatile organic compounds are more complicated and can come from cleaning solvents such as alcohol and ammonia or from trees and plants.  

Ozone can cause inflammation in our lungs and damage our overall respiratory system. It can also damage the environment. According to the EPA, trees and shrubs can see reduced photosynthesis production which will cause them damage.

Pm 10 and pm 2.5 are known as particulate pollutants. The 10 and 2.5 are for the size of the particles and refer to particle sizes of 10 and 2.5 micrometers respectively. The focus is on these sizes since particles above 10 micrometers are large enough to get caught in our nose and sneezed out. Around 2.5 micrometers the particles are small enough that they make it deep into our lungs and are absorbed into our bloodstream. That absorption possibility makes pm 2.5 especially concerning due to the long-term health impacts it can have.

As with ozone, particulate pollution isn’t cut and dry.  There are natural and human-made sources. The natural particles are mostly pm 10 and can be dust and dirt blown from a quarry or construction site or smoke from a wildfire or barbeque joint.


Other notable sources are clouds of Saharan dust that blow across the Atlantic and settle in Texas. Long-term exposure to pm 10 results in general respiratory issues such as emphysema.

Pm 2.5 is usually more sinister since it’s mostly created by burning and mostly by burning at high temperatures. The high temperatures will create many nasty chemicals that can be very dangerous to our health. Pm 2.5 is also frequently a mixture of the tiny pollutants and atmospheric water which can make absorption into the bloodstream even more pervasive. Particle pollution is also a significant contributor to smog and haze.

Texas is especially prone to poor air quality in the summer months due to the persistent sunny, hot days with overall light winds. The increasing population will only help to decrease air quality since that means more factories, power/electricity production, industries, and more cars. With careful consideration, law enforcement in Austin and Texas, in general, can keep our air quality good for most of the year.

FOX 7 Austin Meteorologists update the forecast on-air, online, and on social media. You can also receive updates by downloading the FOX 7 Austin WAPP.