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High winds kick up dust in Kern County


This map from AirNow shows how high winds created dangerous air quality throughout Kern County on Monday. The Air Quality Index was particularly poor in the Eastern and Northeastern part of the county, but hazardous levels reached Bakersfield.

High winds kicked up dust, tumbleweeds and tree branches in Kern County on Monday.

For those who might have been hoping for some wind to clear out the haze of smoke from wildfires that's blanketed the Valley, they have found that wind truly is a "double-edged sword," said San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District spokeswoman Heather Heinks.

The lack of precipitation in the Valley, dry soil and high winds created the conditions for a dust storm Monday, according to Heinks.

When the winds began to stir Monday morning, the district updated its advisory to an alert that will last until 11 a.m. Wednesday.

It warns residents that particulate matter from dust can cause serious health problems, such as aggravating lung disease, triggering asthma attacks and bronchitis, and increasing the risk of respiratory infections. Heinks notes events like these particularly affect older adults and young children.

Kern County Public Health Services Department spokesman Michelle Corson said that because valley fever is prevalent in Kern County, it is especially important residents avoid going outside on windy days.

"Stay inside and keep windows and doors closed when it's windy outside and the air is dusty, especially during dust storms," she advised. "While driving, keep car windows closed and use recirculating air, if available."

Wearing an N-95 mask offers additional protection if going outside cannot be avoided, Corson added.

On Monday, there were wind gusts up to 35 mph in Bakersfield, though in a few areas in the south valley it was closer to 40 mph, according to Jim Bagnall, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Hanford.

In the mountains of Kern County, gusts were much higher. In the Tehachapi area, gusts reached 45 to 55 mph. Over some of the highest ridges in Kern County, the National Weather Service measured gusts up to 70 mph. The Mojave Desert was also recording high gusts up to 70 and 75 mph, Bagnall said.

Winds were expected to diminish in the evening and be lighter on Tuesday.

This week's wind is because the San Joaquin Valley is between a low-pressure storm system sliding through the Great Basin and high-pressure system over the Pacific Ocean along the coast.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District recommends that residents visit or download the “EPA AirNow” app for android or iPhone. They can also call the Bakersfield District office at 661-392-5500 for more information.

You can reach Emma Gallegos at 661-395-7394.