Thursday, September 23, 2021

End of Custom Local Smoke Outlooks for 2021 (probably)

For the better part of the summer of 2021, we've had specially trained Air Resource Advisors (ARA's) working somewhere in Washington to create custom, local smoke outlooks for communities near wildfires. Air Resource Advisors are dispatched to incident management teams to help inform communities of current and future smoke impacts. ARA's also work with fire teams on ways to protect fire personnel from smoke, calculate visibility impairment from smoke to advise fire aviation resources of likely times they can fly, advise the public on strategies to minimize their smoke exposure and protect their health, bring in supplemental monitoring instruments, and coordinate with local officials to serve other smoke-related needs in a local area. You can learn more about the Interagency Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program and ARA's at this link: https://www.wildlandfiresmoke.net/

Temporary monitor installed in Mazama, WA during Cedar Creek fire.

In 2021, five fire teams worked with ARA's in Washington. 

  • Cedar Creek/Cub Creek 2/Muckamuck: smoke forecasts for Methow Valley, Okanogan Valley, Pateros, Chelan.
  • Summit Trail: smoke forecasts for Colville Reservation, Republic, and Colville.
  • Twentyfive Mile: smoke forecasts for Chelan area from Brewster to Leavenworth and Wenatchee.
  • Schneider Springs: smoke forecasts for Yakima Valley from Nile to Sunnyside, plus Cle Elum, Ellensburg, and Quincy.
  • Lick Creek/Green Ridge: smoke forecasts for SE Washington from Dayton to Clarkston. 

ARA's in Washington in 2021


Recent rains have greatly diminished the amount of smoke coming from these fires and although fire teams are still working to extinguish the fires, we no longer have any Air Resource Advisors working in the state. You may have noticed there was a Local Smoke Outlooks tab added to the set of tabs above which is now hidden but ready to go again if needed whether this year or next. 


Thursday, September 16, 2021

Most smoke-impacted areas in Washington during summer 2021

As we await potentially season ending rains this weekend, this may well be our last post for summer 2021. So we focus on the two areas most impacted by smoke in summer 2021: portions of Yakima and Okanogan counties.

Fires in the Methow Valley led to poor air quality in Okanogan county earlier in the season than in previous years. The Schneider Springs fire in western Yakima county has been causing trouble since August 4. Here's a plot of all monitors in each area averaged together on a daily basis. We've included low-cost PurpleAir sensor data by adjusting them with the same correction factor as in the map above. 

To visualize the summer average of PM2.5 in each of the communities, we constructed an interactive map by fusing satellite data, air quality model data and all available monitoring data. We used the same monitors as above, but only included PurpleAir sensors which reported at least one month of data. More geeky details are available on request.

Click on the image below to view the interactive version. 

Disclaimer: this map is for informational purposes only. It does not establish legal culpability nor should it be used to distinguish air quality differences between your front yard and back yard. 

You can see where the most impacted areas were: right by the fires and all the higher terrain where plumes hit, followed by nearby valleys where smoke drains into. Since these are approximately 3-month averages, they're not directly comparable against the daily and annual federal PM2.5 standards of 35 and 12µg/m³ respectively. 

Not to trivialize smoke that plagued other parts of the state, but the sad reality people in these two areas faced was worse. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The Schneider Springs Fire: A closer look

A quick glance at the fire and smoke map at the top of this page reveals that the Yakima region is currently experiencing some of the worst air quality in the state. Since the start of the Schneider Springs Fire on August 3, there have only been six days of good air quality in Yakima County. Compared to the rest of the state since the start of the Schneider Springs Fire, Yakima County has experienced the most days in AQI categories other than good.



 

The animated plot below visualizes the daily PM2.5 values from both regulatory monitors (outlined solid circles) and low-cost sensors (transparent circles, no outline) in Yakima County since the fire began—the size of the circle is related to the daily PM2.5 concentration. Bigger circles = more smoke.

 

How does the air quality compare to the terrible air quality of 2020 as well as previous years? The good news is that there haven’t been any days of hazardous air quality this year. So far this summer looks comparable to the 2018 wildfire season in Yakima County.

 

Unfortunately, the fire is still active, and it is likely that smoke will continue to impact Yakima County. Check out the Smoke Outlooks tab for daily updates, and check out these tips from DOH about protecting your indoor air quality from the smoke outside.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Labor day weekend and beyond: mostly 'all clear' but not everywhere.

We smoke forecasters don't enjoy raining on everyone's parties. This Labor day weekend, we mostly don't have to. 

Thanks to a mixture of clouds, drizzle, normal to just above normal temperatures and wind (hm... sounds like nature is raining on everyone), smoke impacts will be mostly close to the fires. Other areas can expect mostly Good air.  Chances of new fires and fire growth are mostly low. 

But before you pop the champagne cork, see the average of all UW model predictions for 24-hr rain totals, ending 5PM Sunday. Not a lot of rain and it doesn't hit the largest fires. With a dry Monday and Tuesday on tap, that may have to wait until mid week. 

Southern WA Cascades

Smoke from the Schneider Springs fire will continue to affect much of Yakima county through the weekend. The Local Smoke Outlooks tab of this blog has daily updates for areas closer to this fire. Models show a little smoke spilling over into the western foothills of Lewis and Pierce Counties by Monday and Tuesday. Not expecting anything worse than Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups closer to the Cascades of western WA, and that too wont linger much beyond Tuesday. 

Southwest WA including the Vancouver area

By Tuesday, models are suggesting that some Oregon smoke could be transported to the Portland- Vancouver area, potentially leading to air quality that is Moderate or Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. This is not expected to be a prolonged, high-impact event as a wind shift is expected by Wednesday, pushing the smoke further east. Please keep watching the forecast above and plan accordingly. 

Mostly, plan on having a 



Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Where's the fire? Check the "Local Smoke Outlooks" tab

We know things have been looking a little quiet here on the Washington Smoke Blog in recent days as the fire impacts have become more localized.

Just remember that Air Resource Advisors for the Schneider Springs Fire near Naches and the Twenty-Five Mile Fire near Manson are still providing daily forecasts and analysis for communities near those fires. We've also added temporary air quality monitors in Brewster, Cashmere and Cle Elum to keep a close eye on smoke impacts in those communities. You can find those reports under the "Local Smoke Outlooks" tab. 

And, if broader impacts creep back into the forecast, we'll update the main blog and keep you in the loop. 



Friday, August 27, 2021

Yakima area still smoky but most places in Washington breathing clean air

Most fires in Central and Eastern Washington have seen little growth over the past few days, as the weather has been more mild.  A weather system tracking through the region today will bring more rain over Northeast Washington but it will warm up a bit on Sunday.  Overall air quality in the state has been good with no surprises expected anytime soon.  

However, the Schneider Springs fire in Yakima county has burned 75,000 acres this summer and is still going.  Crews are working hard to contain this fire but it is still active and smoke is a persistent concern for downwind communities.  Westerly wind has generally been pushing smoke east, into the valleys, and as far as the Tri-Cities.  A shift in wind on Saturday will change this pattern for a little while, with smoke expected to linger in the mountains. Expect wind patterns to go back to normal on Sunday.  Check the local smoke outlooks for daily forecasts.


Schneider Springs Fire hotspots (orange) and smoke drifting into Yakima (Friday morning) 

Other active fires in the state have seen low fire activity and little growth, including the Summit Trail fire on the Colville Reservation and the TwentyFive Mile fire near Lake Chelan.  These fires are still producing some minimal smoke which could impact nearby communities intermittently.

Recent fire detects in Washington (8/27/2021) 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Rain is coming, right onto many of our large fires.

This UW ensemble precipitation
forecast map shows at least light rain
predicted over much of Washington,
notably skirting the Columbia Basin. 

In most of Washington, any sighs over a cool wet weekend will fill your lungs with clean air.

A breezy weather pattern has started to move across the state. It’s bringing fresh Pacific air and deflecting smoky air from fire complexes in southeastern BC and southern Oregon and northern California away from Washington.

That leaves no smoke worries west of the Cascades, but fires on the range’s east slope and in the Okanogan Highlands can still pack a smoky punch locally.

The Washington Department of Ecology will extend an Air Quality Alert (AQA) for the Methow and Okanogan River Valleys, the Lake Chelan area and Yakima County until 10 a.m. Monday. Particulate matter (PM2.5) levels could reach Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups levels or Unhealthy levels in those areas.

The band of light precipitation will fall mostly in north central parts of Washington, as shown by the ensemble mean of all models. The AQA is being extended despite the rain because fires are expected to continue smoldering for a while. There is not enough rain to extinguish them altogether.

A Super Scooper firefighting plane
flies through evening haze Thursday
over Ecology's Union Gap office.
(Photo: Eiko Urmos-Berry)
The Schneider Creek fire that’s producing scenes like the photo here from Ecology’s Union Gap office last night may miss out on much of the rain.

Cooler temperatures, though, will help fire crews, regardless of rainfall.

The weather package also includes thunderstorms and wind gusts. While those can start or fan wildfires, the overall benefit of cooler air and rain should help fire crews make good progress over the weekend. Sunday should be breezy and drier, with more wet weather forecast to follow early next week.

We’re posting updated local smoke forecasts for Washington’s major fires on this blog’s Local Smoke Outlooks tab. And, our maps show the most current PM 2.5 monitoring information.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The Northwest pattern is back. Except near fires, we’re clear of regional smoke.

 This week is a great time to appreciate the classics, at least when it comes to Pacific Northwest weather patterns. 

Map of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho shows Friday and Saturday rain forecasts of small fractions of an inch.
End of the week rain outlook for
Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho.
A low pressure system arrived late Monday from the North Pacific, bringing some rain showers to some of the fires burning in northern Washington. The system is finishing its pass over the region. A similar batch of rain, clouds and cooler temperatures should arrive late Friday. Not a ton of rain, so don’t pin too many hopes on it.

 In the meantime, we’ll have two days of high pressure weather, bringing light winds and warmer temperatures, but at seasonal levels.

 This between-storms weather will mean that smoke from fires on the east Cascade slopes and northeastern high country will affect nearby areas intermittently. The low pressure system’s cooler air and precipitation should dampen fire intensity, and give fire crews a boost in their containment efforts. Higher winds are part of the low pressure package, though, with their mixed blessing. The winds bring in fresh air, but fan fires, too.

A weather satellite photo of Washington this morning,
with smoke plumes visible from fires in
Okanogan, Chelan and Yakima counties. 

 With localized smoke remaining a concern, the Department of Ecology issued an Air Quality Alert for Okanogan, Ferry, Chelan, and Yakima counties until further notice.

 As for the classics, more low pressure systems may be on the way, interspersed with calm, warmer high pressure. A pattern like that confines smoke to communities around fires, often extending several dozen miles downwind, during the calmer phases.

 When the light summer storms pass by they bring at least cooler temperatures, if not precipitation. On a cloudy or rainy Washington weekend, that’s still a breath of fresh air.

 Please check this blog’s Local Smoke Outlooks tab for more about smoke conditions around Washington’s areas with major wildfires.

Monday, August 16, 2021

We’ll get a brief taste of fall weather. It could help dampen wildfires, but may bring smoke from BC.

Hope mixes with uncertainty when it comes to forecasting this week’s wildfire smoke.

Some cooler weather tinged with rain over the next two days would likely make fire crews smile if the package didn’t include some stiff wind gusts. 

A low pressure system will swing by from the North Pacific pushing a cold front tonight and tomorrow that will cut across Washington and displace hot dry air from a high pressure system centered over the Great Basin. But, later in the week, after this low passes, the weak high pressure system will spread back over Washington.

Smoke under clouds: This webcam picture from a resort near Winthrop shows today's north central Washington smoke haze, under an overcast of regular clouds.

Some light rain will help throughout the state, with relief especially welcome along the east slopes of the Cascades and northeastern counties. Rain will also pass over British Columbia, which may help with the fires whose smoke sank onto much of Washington Friday and Saturday.

The other side of this coin is wind. Gusts could reach 40 miles per hour, which will likely fan fires and speed their spread. The wind direction will shift from west to north. That could push a lot of the BC smoke our way. It’s unclear how much smoke will be generated and mixed down to the surface. Our forecasting models disagree so far, but we hope to bring that into better focus over the next two days.

A NASA satellite view of Washington from late this morning. Cooling clouds blanket northern and coastal areas. Smoke plumes can be seen near Yakima and Clarkston.

We’ve issued an Air Quality Alert for Okanogan, Ferry, Douglas, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Chelan, Kittitas, and Yakima counties through 10 a.m. Wednesday due to smoke from local fires and the uncertain amount of BC smoke that will move south tomorrow.

Western Washington will have plenty of fresh coastal air for at least another day. There will be smoke overhead starting Tuesday, with potential smoke impacts at high elevations on Wednesday. 

Be sure to open the “local smoke outlooks” tab on this blog for specific warnings and information about Washington fires.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Relief in western WA, not so fast for eastern WA

Overhead smoke took the edge off the heat yesterday and will do so again this weekend. 

"Aw c'mon Ranil, that's of little consolation! When will the smoke clear?"

Today and tomorrow. But...

Eastern WA

Strong west winds will help reduce the smoke this evening through Sunday, but also raise the risk of new fires. So while most areas will see some improvement, not too many communities will see Good air for long. Existing fires are projected to keep puffing out smoke. Conditions are expected to worsen mid-week as another ridge builds. Please see the 5-day forecast map above.

Western WA

Ground level smoke will continue to clear today, although elevated smoke from CA fires will flex its muscle as it sails (mostly) overhead, giving us pretty sunsets. Expect a smoke-free western WA for a few days at least. Got to keep an eye on possible east winds mid-week, which can transport smoke from across the Cascades. 

Here's a comparison of fine particle pollution (aka PM2.5) levels across the state so far this season. Who had it best/ worst? You decide.