Monday, July 31, 2017

Brace yourselves, smoke is on its way

North winds and then east winds by mid- week. Smells of smoke. Even in western Washington.

Statewide air quality is mostly Good at present, except for the Methow valley and Darrington. Previous forecast for the Methow is expected to remain valid for the next few days.

Smoke from the Suiattle fire has caused air in Darrington to degrade to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. Some relief is expected during the daytime hours today but smoke will likely remain trapped in the valleys overnight and worsen when the morning inversion breaks. Air quality is expected to vary between Moderate and Unhealthy over the next few days, depending on fire activity.

The big story is that the north winds are transporting smoke from British Columbia wildfires into northern Washington. Satellites show that large plumes have already crossed the northern border and will likely impact communities in Okanogan and Whatcom counties between now and Wednesday. Expect air quality to vary between Good and Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. Some models (see forward trajectories at different heights) suggest this smoke could push all the way down to King County by late Tuesday. We will be watching this closely.

Forecast models show smoke draining further into central WA by mid- week, so communities along the Okanogan river valley should brace for Moderate or poorer air.

Please take a look at the "Smoke and Health" section of this blog, which provides several resources to protect yourself from the harmful effects of smoke.

On the bright side, smoke plumes that remain aloft will offer a little relief from the oppressive heat by providing a thin sun shield that lowers temperatures a degree or two. And they will cause pretty sunsets.

Winds turn easterly from Wednesday onward and while this might reduce the BC smoke faucet, it will likely transport smoke from western Montana to eastern Washington. More on this in the next update.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Way more smoke in the Methow Valley. Not much change over the weekend

The Diamond Creek fire north of Mazama appears to have been annoyed by something: it puffed up way more smoke last night than it did in the past few days.

While smoke drained into the Methow as expected, the amount of smoke was an unpleasant surprise. Air quality in Winthrop has been Unhealthy since midnight and Twisp quickly caught up when the morning inversion broke. Expect some gradual improvement during the day, but not hopeful it will get any better than Moderate today.

A repeat of last night and this morning beckons on Friday and Saturday nights into the following morning, because winds will be terrain- driven each day. Slightly stronger winds on Sunday will help disperse the smoke, leading to Good to Moderate AQ in the Methow.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Northern WA and Lewis Clark Valley smoke forecast

Several areas in north central and north eastern Washington saw periods of Moderate air over the last 2 days. While smoke from the Diamond Creek fire north of Mazama has been hitting the Methow valley,  the Noisy Creek and Bissell fires caused smoke in the northeast. Clarkston got hit by smoke from the Craig Mountain Complex fire as the nighttime inversion broke this morning.

East winds are unlikely in the coming days, and since the Craig Mountain Complex fire is now almost fully contained, mostly Good air quality is likely in the Lewis- Clark valley.

If the Diamond Creek fire continues to produce smoke, winds are very likely to keep the Methow Valley somewhat smoky. Here's a snapshot of what we call 'ensemble forward trajectories': it shows how air masses at different heights are likely to travel forward from a certain location. Starting at 11PM tonight, air upto about 1500 feet is likely to drain via the Methow valley over the next 12 hours, bringing smoke from the fire down to ground level. The "ensemble" part refers to how different forecast models characterize the same scenario. The colored lines represent the means of all such models for each release height.

Good consensus that the Methow lies downwind of the fire tonight. Expect Moderate air at night and mostly Good as the day progresses. If smoke is released above 1500 ft, it is possible that some could circle around and mix down when the temperature inversion breaks in the morning. This could lead to Moderate air around Omak and Okanogan, with gradual improvement during the day.

Weekend and beyond are shaping up to be hot with light winds. Here's a snapshot of an ultra-cool animation of temperatures and winds at 2500 ft on Sunday afternoon (not much different to Saturday).

Smoke impacts over the weekend will depend on fire activity. If the status quo persists, the above forecast should be good through Monday.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Expect smoke in eastern Washington, western WA just about escapes a dose

Smoke in the Methow valley and lower Yakima county is in the process of dissipating over the next few hours as north winds pick up speed. Air quality should be mostly Good around the state through the day, but splotches of Moderate and Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups will return tonight, mostly around Mazama, Winthrop, White Swan, Toppenish, Sunnyside, Hunters and Davenport.

While strong winds blow away the smoke, they have their own agenda:

Some forecast models suggest Canadian wildfire smoke will get caught up in the northerly winds tonight. Winds are expected to shift to the east briefly, bringing this smoke perilously close to the Cascade crest. But this flow pattern is unlikely to persist for long enough to push smoke into western WA. Neither are they likely to blow smoke from fires in western Montana, all the way to far eastern Washington.

Tuesday should see a lighter winds so smoke impacts will be mostly near the fires. Expect Good air statewide with a few areas of Moderate overnight into Wednesday.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

7/18/2017 Smoke in Northern WA coming in from large BC fires

The smoke issues we are seeing in parts of Washington are due to large areas of wildfire to the north of us in British Columbia where 40,000 people have been forced from their homes. Our blog map shows the widespread fire detects obtained from satellites (zoom out on the blog map or click on the link below it that says "full map"). They may get some rain by Thursday. All the best to our northern neighbors.

Some news on the fires here:

More smoke in north Central WA than expected

Contrary to expectations, some smoke from BC wildfires did mix down to the surface yesterday. Air quality hovered between Moderate and Unhealthy at several locations in northern Washington since Monday morning.

Here's the satellite picture from Monday afternoon. White streaks are clouds, light grey patches are smoke and red dots are fire locations.

Not expecting a strong wind shift through Wednesday evening, so northern WA should continue to see more of the same today, although smoke in northern Whatcom county could start clearing sooner. Air quality in many communities of northern Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille could degrade to Unhealthy levels today and tomorrow. Some marginal relief is possible in a few areas tonight.

Winds pick up and change direction by Wednesday night but this is a mixed blessing because it brings the risk of dry lightning, which could mean new wildfires. A Red Flag Warning has been issued to address this. Blowing dust on Thursday morning is likely across the Columbia Basin.

Monday, July 17, 2017

More fires and a little more smoke

Numerous fires burning in eastern WA, the largest of which is the Snake River fire near Pomeroy. Air quality in the Lewis- Clark valley has been poor over the last two days and is likely to hover between Moderate and USG over the next few days.

The NOAA HMS Fire and Smoke satellite image shows light smoke from Canadian and Alaskan wildfires over Washington state, but most of it remains aloft. Not expecting strong downward mixing this week so very unlikely that we'll have to inhale much of it. And no, it wont be dense enough to cause spectacular sunsets.

Light north winds are expected across the Columbia Basin today, meaning smoke is likely to drift into the basin. Winds will be driven by daytime heating/ nighttime cooling through Wednesday so not expecting smoke to travel very far from its original sources. Air quality should be mostly Good statewide, except close to fires when periods of Moderate and USG can be expected overnight, with some clearing during the day.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Living Dangerously in the Era of Megafires - TED Talk

Many of you may have seen the recent presentation by Dr. Paul Hessburg on the Era of Megafires.  In this presentation, Dr. Hessburg provides an explanation of why wildfires have been growing in the the western united states.  Recently, a condensed version of the presentation was made into a Ted Talk which is now on Youtube.  Its called Living Dangerously in the Era of Megafires.  You can search for it by title on Youtube or access it by clicking this link   Or to see it in person, check out the schedule from North 40 Productions website at

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

BC wildfire smoke still affecting north central WA

The Methow Valley is very hazy as shown by the Sun Mountain Lodge webcam.

Pollution levels spiked in many areas in and around over Okanogan county today and has commenced its slow daytime decline.

The fire in British Columbia mentioned in the previous post continues to be the culprit, with smoke mixing to the surface when the overnight temperature inversion breaks. The satellite picture this morning shows smoke pouring down the Okanogan river valley.

Air quality in the area is expected to vary between Moderate and Unhealthy in the area with a slow improvement over the rest of today. Winds are expected to shift to the southwest and help return the smoke back to Canada with a "no thank you" note. But smoke lodged in more sheltered valleys might have a harder time getting scrubbed out, so expect areas of Moderate to USG to persist until tomorrow.

Rest of the state should see mostly Good air for the next few days, except close to some fires where Moderate or USG conditions can be expected during overnight hours.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

BC wildfire smoke affecting northern WA

Smoke from a fire near Princeton, BC has been affecting parts of Okanogan, Ferry and Stevens counties over the last few mornings. This afternoon's satellite picture shows smoke from the (circled) fire.

The fine particle pollution monitor in Omak bears out the evidence most prominently. Notice how levels spiked over the last 3 mornings.

This happens when (1) northwest flows overnight transport smoke into the area via the Okan(a)ogan river valley, followed by (2) the inversion layer breaking up as the morning sun heats the ground, and (3) smoke aloft mixes to the surface. But daytime winds switch to the southwest and help dissipate smoke- albeit slowly. 

Expect another round of the same smoke behavior in the north central counties from Sunday to Tuesday. Periods of Moderate and USG air are likely during the overnight and morning hours. Unhealthy air in communities such as Oroville and Tonasket cannot be ruled out.

And finally, be prepared for more fire concerns on Sunday, followed by a progressively hotter work week.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Smoke forecast Friday 7/7- Monday 7/10

Currently air quality is mostly Good statewide, with a few Moderate areas sprinkled in. There are several brush fires burning and air quality is likely to be compromised closer to them.

Of immediate concern is the Red Flag Warning for much of eastern WA today. This graphic from the National Weather Service says it all:

A fair amount of fuels in WA are dry enough to burn, as indicated by the FPI index below (OK nothing like the desert southwest!)

While stronger winds will transport smoke from fires around the Cascade Foothills to parts of the Columbia Basin, fine particle pollution (PM2.5) is likely to be somewhat dispersed and I dont expect air quality to degrade much worse than Moderate later today. However as winds lighten over the weekend, communities such as Wenatchee, Quincy and Sunnyside could potentially see a few hours of Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (USG) air, mostly at night and early morning. Expect mostly Good to Moderate air in other areas of eastern Washington.

No major storms or winds are expected over the next week. Temperatures are expected to remain close to or just above normal. Firefighting isnt going to be easy so lets do our best to prevent fires.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Residual smoke from fireworks in western WA today

Light winds in much of Washington over the last 2 days caused smoke from fireworks to accumulate in many communities.  The chart below shows fine particle pollution levels spiking after 6PM on the 4th of July. A smaller spike was observed on the 3rd.

Pollution levels are still dissipating and we expect Good air quality to return later today.

Smoke from any new fires that started in the last day, whether due to fireworks or other reasons, will likely be confined to nearby areas as winds are expected to remain light until about Thursday evening. Expect mostly Good air quality statewide, with a few Moderate periods.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Smoke forecast for Independence Day holiday

Biggest concern is the dry, gusty winds expected along the east slopes of the central Cascades through tonight. There is a strong possibility of rapid fire spread and a Red Flag Warning has been issued.

Smoke from fires east and west of Yakima is expected to blow across the central and northeastern Columbia Basin today but air quality is expected to remain mostly Good, except right by the fires where Moderate or Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups can occur overnight.

As winds die down and temperatures ramp up on and after the 4th of July, smoke from existing and new fires is likely to linger in the area. Some cities in Yakima county could see Moderate or USG conditions at times.

No major smoke concerns are expected in western Washington over this period. Have a safe and happy 4th of July!