Friday, September 29, 2017

9/29/2017 Seeing smoke?

Fall Prescribed Burning

This is the time of year when land managers and firefighters have a chance to safely use fire in a controlled manner to reduce fuel loads in the forest. Prescribed burning can benefit ecosystems, improve wildlife habitat, and lessen the chance of future uncontrollable wildfires and severe smoke episodes. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regulates forestry burning in Washington and always attempts to keep smoke from impacting the public to any great extent. You can find out if there's an approved forestry burn near you by visiting this page:

Also, for those of you on near or downwind of the  east slopes of the Cascades, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest maintains a nice interactive map that displays their planned and active burns at the link below. Note that you can zoom way in to see the perimeters of planned burns.

Oka-Wen prescribed fire map

And if you're a Facebook or Twitter user you can follow the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest there too:

Photo by Jason Emhoff

Saturday, September 16, 2017

This smoke is trying to show us who's boss. Even when its days are numbered

When the Canadian smoke model forecast some smoke in Seattle this morning, we thought it was over-doing the east winds. Turns out it wasn't. Smoke from the Jolly Mountain and Norse Peak fire are now being transported to western WA. Today's satellite picture has too many clouds to see the smoke clearly, but a look at last afternoon's satellite image tells the story.

Seattle-ites are now being exposed to conditions similar to what the eastern foothills of the Cascades has been seeing for the last few days. Here's a plot of fine particle pollution levels at a few comparative sites.

Notice the spike in western WA this morning: this happens when smoke aloft mixes down when the overnight temperature inversion breaks in the morning.

It is expected that these conditions will be with us until mid morning on Sunday. The I-5 corridor from Mount Vernon down to Vancouver, WA will see air varying between Good and Unhealthy, with poor air at night and slight improvements in the afternoon. Smoke may may push a little further west, possibly leading to Moderate conditions in communities on the eastern foothills of the Olympics. The Eagle Creek fire will continue to impact southwestern WA communities causing Unhealthy air in several places.

Winds shift on Sunday morning and slowly but surely beat the smoke into submission by evening, showing who the REAL boss is. Wetting rains are expected in the Cascades so smoke production is likely to be diminished afterward.

Eagle Creek Fire Smoke Outlook 16 Sept 2017

North Central Washington Smoke Outlook for 16 Sept 2017

Central Washington Smoke Outlook for 16 Sept 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

9/15/2017 Air quality forecast for areas near the Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia River Gorge

One last hurrah for wildfire smoke this weekend

If you haven't heard, fall weather is nearly upon us.  While this means chilly temperatures and saying goodbye to the summer gear, the upside is that fire activity should reduce significantly.  Smoke may linger a bit through the weekend but this should be the last hurrah for wildfire smoke in most locations.

The National Weather Service is issuing an Air Quality Alert for Central and Eastern Washington which will expire on Monday morning.  However, several counties will see relief sooner and NWS will end the AQA early for those locations as conditions improve.  Sunday night and Monday morning will bring rain to Western Washington and other west-facing mountainous areas, but the eastern Cascades probably won't see much more than a sprinkle.

Much of Eastern Washington should expect air quality to vary from Moderate to Unhealthy today, but improve slowly through the weekend.  Winds from the east have been bringing in smoke from BC and Montana fires, which hit Spokane yesterday and will continue to pester residents in Eastern Washington today.  Winds should die down a little on Saturday but expect some smoke to linger potentially through Sunday.  With the chilly temperatures, low mixing heights, and low winds on Saturday, there will be some smoke drainage into valley towns.  Sunday will bring winds from the south and smoke should clear out then for much of Eastern Washington.

Central Washington air is still Unhealthy or worse, especially Klickitat, Kittitas, and Yakima counties.  Hopefully this improves a bit through the weekend as fire activity reduces.  Though, you may have to wait until the end of the weekend to see real relief, especially since smoke will continue to drain into the valleys from local fires.  Some areas in Okanogan and Chelan counties will likely continue to see air that is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups due to smoke from the Diamond Creek fire.

Clark and Skamania counties will continue to see smoke impacts from the nearby fires in Oregon through today.  Most of the rest of Western Washington shouldn't see any smoke at the ground. Though, there is potential for a couple smoke plumes to pass overhead and potentially impact mountainous areas today as winds continue to blow from the east.

And now for the pretty picture: regional smoke seen this morning by the GOES-16 satellite.  

Central Washington Smoke Outlook 15 Sept 2017

Thursday, September 14, 2017

North Central Washington Smoke Outlook

Central Washington smoke under cooler conditions

With the northerly winds over central and eastern Washington today, downwind impacts of wildfire smoke will be of concern.

Of the highest concern are the Upper and Lower Yakima River Valleys, the Methow Valley, and the lower Columbia Basin.  For today, expect downwind communities in the above mentioned valleys to experience Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups to Very Unhealthy for most to today through tomorrow morning.
After the winds die down, we can expect fire growth to have occurred, which means more smoldering, especially as cooler temps prevail.  Wildfire smoke under cool conditions causes the smoke to gather in valleys overnight and will accumulate until the sun heats the air and smoke, lofting the smoke up.

Expect the Colombia Basin, Okanogan, Chelan, Douglas, Kittitas, Yakima and Klickitat Counties will have compromised or diminished air quality once the northerly wind slows down.

Central Washington Smoke Outlook 14 Sept 2017

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Is there cleaner air in our future?

This from the National Weather service:

Area Forecast Discussion
National Weather Service Spokane WA
  453 AM PDT Wed Sep 13 2017
cold front passage tonight will bring gusty winds and cooler 
  temperatures for the rest of the work week. There is a chance of 
  showers for north Idaho Thursday and Friday. After a chilly start 
  on Saturday, anticipate dry and milder weather. The next chance of
  rain looks to arrive Sunday night into Monday followed by breezy 
  and cooler conditions.

For the Wednesday into Friday communities that are near existing large fires will continue to deal with overnight smoke into their valleys.  Areas such as Winthrop in the Methow valley to the South of the Diamond Creek fire should be aware of this given the forecast for winds out of the North through Thursday.

Western Washington should remain clear of the smoke.
Eastern Washington areas around Spokane and North should also be breathing cleaner air.
Walla Walla is seeing some smoke today from a Central Oregon fire that made a significant run yesterday.
The Methow, Chelan, Wenatchee, Kittitas and Yakima valleys are our areas of concern for the next few days.

There is good news on the horizon.  The trend is for lower temperatures and higher relative humidities across the entire inland Northwest from Friday through the weekend, with a much anticipated, much needed chance of widespread precipitation to support the firefighting efforts by early next week!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Sunday was the cleanest we've been all month!

Welcome relief from smoke over the weekend! Air quality monitors on Sunday showed the cleanest air we've had all month. Not squeaky clean but a far cry from the gunk we've been inhaling, with most of the state's fine particle monitors registering Good air.

With a mild ridge building today and tomorrow, winds will be light and smoke has already started accumulating in Central Cascades valleys. The previous post below covers these communities. An air quality alert is in effect for Chelan, Douglas, Kittitas, Yakima and Klickitat counties through 10AM Wednesday.

Fortunately the east winds we feared don't seem to be a major concern anymore, meaning:

  • Montana smoke is unlikely to hit far eastern WA. Spokane area should hover between Good and Moderate through Tuesday, while the southeastern and northeastern counties should see mostly Good air.
  • Smoke from the Cascades is unlikely to make its way to western WA → expect Good air
  • A little smoke from the Eagle Creek fire could still make its way toward Cascade Locks and Camas, leading to Moderate/ Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups air. Areas closer to fires might see poorer air. 

Even though the major wildfires continue to burn- albeit with less intensity- decent winds and good mixing on Wednesday will help nudge us toward an all- green (meaning Good air) state.

Smoke Forecast for Central Washington - Monday September 11, 2017

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Washington State Fire and Smoke September 10, 2017

Washington State Fire and Smoke Update
Issued: September 10, 2017
Prepared by R. Graw, USDA Forest Service

Current Conditions (Sunday afternoon):

Currently, there are 11 large fires burning in Washington, as shown in Figure 1, and listed in Table 1. Three of these fires are over 10,000 acres, with the Diamond Creek being the largest, and Norse Peak and Jolly Mountain being the second and third largest, respectively.  Norse Peak fire (not labeled on the map) is next to the much smaller American Fire.  The Jolly Mountain Fire (also not labeled) is located over the "W" in the word "Washington" on the map below.  The most active fires yesterday were Norse Peak and Jolly Mountain.  The Bridge Creek fire is now 98% contained.  The Uno Peak and Ferry Point fires, which lie on the north side of Lake Chelan, have merged into a single fire.

Figure 1.  Large Fire Map (Sunday, September 10, 2017)

Table 1.  Summary of Large Fires Burning in Washington

Air quality was also greatly improved state-wide today as illustrated in Figure 3.  As of 2 pm on Sunday afternoon, most of the state was experiencing good air quality.  Moderate levels of smoke were present over south central and a pocket of eastern Washington and in Seattle.  Unhealthy levels of air quality occurred only in White Salmon, due to the fires in the Columbia River Gorge.

Figure 2.  Air Quality Conditions as of 2 pm on Sunday September 10, 2017

Monday September 11, 2017:

On Monday, a weak ridge of high pressure will try to build into the state.  Fortunately, this ridge of pressure will not be nearly as strong as the one we experienced over the Labor Day weekend.
Figure 3 illustrates the 24-hour average conditions for the period ending at 5 pm on Monday. Smoke is expected to impact central and eastern Washington which lie to the east of the Norse Peak and Jolly Mountain Fires, and in Methow Valley and Tonasket areas.  Yakima, Cle-Elum,  and Wenatchee are likley to experience smokey conditions.   At times, smoke will extend as far as Richland and Kennwick and parts of the Columbia Basin.  Additionally some smoke is expected in the very northeast corner of the state.  The model did not, however, detect the fire in the Columbia River Gorge which caused unhealthy levels of smoke in White Salmon today.  Easterly winds are expected in the Columbia River Gorge tomorrow which will transport smoke into Vancouver/Portland Metropolitan Area. Other than that, most of western Washington can expect good air quality on Monday.

Figure 3.  Model-Predicted 24-Hour Average Smoke Impacts for the Period Ending  at 5 pm on Monday - September 11, 2017

Tuesday September 12, 2017

On Tuesday, the weak ridge will move out of the state as another low pressure system approaches. The overall smoke pattern on Tuesday will be very similar to Monday, except for the Columbia River Gorge, where west wind is expected, bringing smoke back to White Salmon and the eastern portion of the Gorge.  The maximum hourly concentrations of smoke are illustrated in Figure 4, in a relative sense.  Thus, areas of dark red will experience the heaviest smoke and areas in pink will experience light smoke.  Please note that again the fire in the Columbia River Gorge and consequently smoke from this fire are not illustrated on this figure.

Figure 4.  Model-Predicted Maximum Hourly Smoke on Tuesday September 12, 2017