Malaysia Enduring Poor Air Quality Amid Severe Drought

By , Senior Meteorologist
March 14, 2014; 8:08 PM ET
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Play video A brief overview of the weather across Asia is given in the above AccuWeather.com video.

While the lack of showers and thunderstorms across Malaysia will aid the search for the missing Malaysian airplane, the ongoing severe drought has led to unhealthy air quality.

A persistent ridge of high pressure has prevented monsoon moisture from streaming across the Malay Peninsula--home to Malaysia--and triggering showers and thunderstorms that are common this time of year.

"The region would normally pick up between 300 and 380 mm (12 and 15 inches) of rain over the past two months but has only received 10 percent or less of those totals this year," stated AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Eric Wanenchak.

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Detailed Forecast for Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia Weather Center
Malaysia Satellite Page

The ridge of high pressure is also acting like a lid in the atmosphere, keeping harmful pollutants trapped near the surface and raising air quality to unhealthy levels in the highly populated southwestern corner of Malaysia.

The Air Pollutant Index, calculated by the Malaysian Department of Environment, rose to 308 Friday evening local time (Friday morning EDT) at Port Klang and above 150 in parts of Kuala Lumpur.

Air Pollutant Index (API) levels between 100 and 200 are considered unhealthy, and the elderly and those with respiratory issues are advised to limit outdoor activities. Even healthy residents should take it easy when participating in strenuous activities and drink plenty of water.

API levels between 200 and 300 are deemed very unhealthy, while any level above 300 are hazardous.

Malaysia's Health Ministry told the New Straits Times, an English-language newspaper published in Malaysia, that school closures would be advised when the API exceeds 200.

The Department of Environment reports that the main sources of air pollution in Malaysia are industries, development activities, motor vehicles, power generation, land clearing, open burning and forest fires. Photo by Thinkstock photos.

The weather should help to reduce the high API readings in the near future. Wanenchak expects the ridge to break down, opening the door for scattered showers and thunderstorms to return and improve air quality.

Showers and thunderstorms should become widespread across Malaysia from Sunday into early next week.

While any rainfall will be welcome and beneficial to vegetation, the upcoming showers and thunderstorms will be far from drought busters.

In fact, Wanenchak is concerned for lightning strikes to ignite wildfires on the outer fringes of thunderstorms where it is not raining.

The showers and thunderstorms could also hinder search efforts for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 as the search area continues to widen.

Meteorologist Eric Leister contributed to this story.

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