Washington Smoke Map

*The map above is not able to display all state air quality monitors. Click here to see all monitors in Washington: WA Ecology Air Monitors

Note: Some users might notice intermittent discrepancies in colors shown on the map of air quality monitors above, and those reported on the Department of Ecology's official page. This is because Ecology believes their method of calculating the air quality category (i.e. “Good”, “Moderate”, Unhealthy” etc) is more protective of public health in Washington. If in doubt as to which better represents public health risk, use the more stringent of the two (i.e. the map showing worse air quality).

Monday, August 7, 2017

Monday and Tuesday will be like Sunday

For smoke that is, not because of an extended weekend.

The Canadian smoke model had it right yesterday- the inversion over western WA did break in the afternoon, mixing smoke to the Puget Sound lowlands. As winds died down, more smoke built up over the area. Sunset was more colorful than Friday and Saturday. Air was Moderate in most of western WA and Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (USG) or worse in most of eastern WA.

The stark air quality divide across the Cascades persists. The air quality animation of the last few hours shows how areas west of the Cascades have improved compared to eastern WA, eastern OR and south central ID - which still have the ignoble distinction of having the worst air in the country.

Because it has been doing a reasonable job over the last few days, will lean on the Canadian model for guidance. Expecting a repeat of yesterday for both Monday and Tuesday: western WA mostly Moderate, eastern WA mostly USG; Very Unhealthy in areas closer to local fires.

The issue of large differences in pollution levels within a short distance has been raised. It seems reasonable that when smoke from a common source blankets a large area, concentrations should be fairly uniform. If large differences are observed, is it due to malfunctioning monitors?

Malfunctioning equipment is a concern and site operators work hard to ensure accurate and timely data delivery. However even in absence of localized sources, concentration gradients can arise due to differences in topography. Below is a comparison of two pairs of sites within ~15 miles of each other, showing very different levels this morning. The site at Neah Bay is at sea level and the site at Cheeka Peak is about 15 miles south and 1000ft above (difference annotated with a red curly brace). There are no major local sources nearby. The higher terrain is impacted by more smoke from aloft, and the low level inversion keeps Neah Bay somewhat shielded.

Similarly, the Tacoma area ventilated out early this morning but the smoke clung on in the Puyallup valley (annotated with a black curly brace), located about 12 miles east.

Moral of the story: there can be legitimate differences for sharp spatial gradients.

Finally, this graphic from the National Weather Service in Spokane has a succinct message for all of eastern WA:


  1. RE: Variation in smoke levels in short distances. Here is Wenatchee the sake seems to hang at different levels. This morning the sake was thick here is Canyon Hills and Fancher Heights, (about 1600 feet.) Down by the Columbia River 2 miles away the smoke was visibly lighter. Other days this week I would say the reverse was true.

  2. Dear Dr. D,

    Many of us over here in Eastern WA who enjoy breathing deeply in the great outdoors, are going stir crazy. In an effort to stave off complete madness, we’re willing to travel to any nearby areas boasting green (or even yellow) air quality. My hunch is that there are such places sprinkled around the state (in the Cascades perhaps?) but the distance between air monitoring stations (and altogether absence in the Cascades) makes it difficult to confirm this. Would you share how/where you’re finding those nifty satellite images, posted yesterday and last week?

    Thanks for all you do to keep WA State residents up to date on air quality, and for the entertaining way in which you do it.

    ~Lisa in Ellensburg

  3. Hi Lisa, there is a map of air monitors with current conditions at the top of this page. As you can see, the coast is clear- literally- and is likely to remain that way for a while. Unless you're prepared to head to above 7000ft, you're taking a chance with the Cascades as smoke gets stuck in many of the valleys. Satellite pictures confirm this day after day.

    "Nifty satellite images": http://rammb-slider.cira.colostate.edu, http://www.atmos.washington.edu/~ovens/loops/ (I like the 1km visible satellite pic of WA) and http://ge.ssec.wisc.edu/modis-today/ (click on WA state- AQUA and TERRA images are each updated once daily, around 2PM and 5PM).

    Hope that helps. Stay safe!


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