Fox News Weather Center

Malaysia Enduring Poor Air Quality Amid Severe Drought

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 Meteorologist Eric Wanenchak.

The ridge 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 275 Thursday evening local time (Thursday morning EDT) at Port Klang and 172 at Batu Muda in 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.

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 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.

The showers and thunderstorms will mainly rumble across northern and eastern Malaysia on Friday. Kuala Lumpur and the rest of southwestern Malaysia will likely have to wait until Saturday for the dry weather to end.

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.