Code Orange air alert for Atlanta: What its means for outdoor holiday plans

Dangerous air plus high temperatures are a bad combination. At greater risk are the old, the young and those with asthma, heart or lung conditions
Construction workers takes a break in Atlanta’s Krog District during high temperatures last summer.(Arvin Temkar /



Construction workers takes a break in Atlanta’s Krog District during high temperatures last summer.(Arvin Temkar /

To prepare for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race, Carmen Chubb usually runs twice every morning — once at 5:30 a.m. and again at 8 a.m.

For now, though, she is eliminating that second morning run.

That’s at least until there’s a break from scorching heat and the smoke haze from hundreds of Canadian wildfires creeping south toward Georgia. Forecasters advise the smoke can be dangerous to older people, youngsters and those with health issues like asthma and heart conditions.

A Code Orange alert is in effect for the Atlanta area, issued at midweek by the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The warning is not related to the smoke, but means ozone in the air is unhealthy for the elderly and young children who are sensitive to ozone and those with asthma, heart or lung disease.

Temperatures had been expected to reach 96 on Thursday but fell short at 93 degrees by midafternoon. Forecasters expected a 98-degree high on Friday and 97 on Saturday, with weekend rains that should moderate the heat for Tuesday’s Independence Day race. The Code Orange alert will run through Friday.

“I think that the damage of having that second run is more concerning now than the impact it will have on race day,” said Chubb, president of a real estate development company and who is running her 26th race.

Chubb, the former chief of staff to former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, is also taking extra precautions when she visits her mother in her assisted living residence. She usually takes her mother out on weekends but this weekend will limit their time outdoors.

“She’s in good health, but she’s a frail 82-year-old and I’m concerned about her being out,” said Chubb.

Experts say Chubb is taking the right steps.

Air Quality Index: Things to know

The Air Quality Index for Atlanta or any city is given in a number and in six color-coded categories, according to the AP. Green or yellow — in the zero to 100 range — the air is pretty clear. Once it gets up to orange, the air quality could be a concern for sensitive groups like kids, older adults or those with health conditions.In the red and purple zones, the air quality is considered unhealthy for everyone. And once it gets to maroon — at 301 or above — pollution levels are hazardous. The link for Atlanta is below. For other cities, visit, which updates every hour.

TRAVEL WEATHER: If you are traveling, Chicago, parts of Minnesota and Washington, D.C. are among places reporting dangerous air quality and high temperatures. Use the AJC weather page to check the forecast for your travel destination.

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre says nearly 30,000 square miles of forests and other land have burned across Canada since Jan. 1, according to the Associated Press. In recent weeks, the smoke from those fires has spread through the Midwest and North Atlantic states, pushing ever southward and eastward.

DeAnna Oser, assistant branch chief of the air protection branch of the Georgia EPD said the state, particularly in the northern area, is “starting to see some elevated, fine particulate” matter in the air.

She suspects that elevation is being caused by the fires. “It appears to indicate that smoke is being pulled into Georgia,” Oser said.

Currently, the state measures particulate matter that is 2.5 microns or less in size. To get an idea of how big that is, it would take 30 of those particles to fit across the width of a strand of hair, she said. At that size, it’s fine enough to get into tiny lung capillaries.

Carmen Chubb has slightly changed the way she trains for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race because of the heat and air quality currently in metro Atlanta.

Credit: Cont

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Credit: Cont

The Code Orange air alert is due to a rise in the ozone levels.

“There is smoke coming, but it doesn’t look as thick as it is far north,” said Vaughn Smith, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Peachtree City. “I see it on the satellite, but I don’t think it’s going to be much of an issue for Georgia residents.”

Of greater health concern is the unrelenting heat. The NWS/Peachtree City advises on Twitter that the Atlanta area will swelter this weekend in the hottest temperatures so far this summer, with heat-index values predicted to exceed 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

Numerous health issues can be associated with exposure to air pollution, like that in wildfire smoke, said Jeremy Sarnat, associate professor of environmental health at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health.

Breathing the smoke can acutely exacerbate health and lung problems in people who have cardio-respiratory diseases such as COPD, asthma and heart disease, he said.

As a result “we see an increase in hospital admissions, emergency department visits on days when those pollutants are elevated and an increase in mortality rates,” Sarnat said.

Dr. Cecil Bennett, medical director for Newnan Family Medicine, said those at the two extremes of age — the very young and the elderly — and those with underlying health conditions are at greater risk if exposed for very long periods.

“It’s still early in the summer, so we’re not seeing a large number of patients with acute heat injuries such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” he said. Heat exhaustion is the inability of the body to regulate heat properly and signs include profuse sweating, extreme thirst, nausea and perhaps confusion.

That person should get to a cool location and slowly lower their body temperature by spraying or being sprayed with water, pouring water over their head or drinking water, he said.

More serious is heat stroke, a condition in which the body can no longer produce sweat. Symptoms include dry skin and a dramatically elevated heart rate, confusion and even loss of consciousness.

These are “signs that 911 needs to be called immediately,” Bennett said

He advised limiting activities in very high temperatures. “If you have to do something, it should be done during the day.” And, he added, those with underlying conditions should wear a mask outdoors.

For those who have jobs that require them to be outside for long periods of times, experts say they should take cool-down breaks and drink plenty of water.

Those with asthma should keep their inhaler close by, drink plenty of fluids and close their windows to keep out dirty outdoor air.