Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The atmosphere has started a self-clean cycle

Western Washingtonians awoke to cleaner air today as marine air started to displace accumulated smoke and usher in a cool-down. The Siberian, Californian and Oregonian smoke taps are being throttled down. All fine particle pollution monitors west of the Cascades have dropped down to Good levels this morning. North Bend still has Moderate air but is clearing out rapidly. This welcome cleaning cycle is poised to reach eastern WA by late today, but there is a caveat. Read on.

Yesterday's satellite picture overlaid with air quality data (Green= Good; Yellow= Moderate) shows smoke from various sources lingering over much of the state, giving rise to Moderate air in many places.

Forecast for western WA
The good news is that we don't expect a return to hazy skies within the next week, as long range forecasts indicate cooler-than-normal temperatures and the possibility of rain in western WA and the Cascades within the next 5-7 days. Yessss!

Eastern WA forecast
The weather pattern shift will indeed help flush out lingering smoke over the next two days, but the catch is that strong winds starting late tonight will enhance fire danger. Depending on fire growth, areas of USG air are possible over the next two days, particularly close to fires. Not expecting areas further from fires to deteriorate beyond Moderate between now and Thursday. Good news is that there wont be a return to hot and dry conditions; cooler temperatures late this week will aid firefighting efforts. Good air is looming on the horizon.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Light smoke over western Washington. It gets worse before it gets better

The light smoke blanketing much of eastern Washington has started to bleed west of the Cascades, further exacerbated by some fairly new fires in particular the Wrong Creek fire close to Mount Rainier. Tacoma, Puyallup and Auburn saw Moderate air on Saturday mostly due to the latter, and North Bend is currently experiencing Moderate air.

Here's the map of lightning over the last 24 hours. Thunderstorms in the Cascades on Saturday might have sparked off new fires but we don't have a handle on those yet. A red flag warning is in effect for the Cascades from now through 11PM on Monday, so fires will likely grow.

Expect a very hot, dry and relatively wind-less Sunday and Monday statewide. What this means for smoke Sunday and Monday:

King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties

Winds will be driven by terrain, meaning smoke will likely drain into communities along the Cascade foothills and perhaps closer to some of the larger cities overnight. Light amounts of that Siberian/ BC smoke overhead may mix to the surface during the day, more so at higher elevations. Expect Moderate air at times, though pockets of USG cannot be ruled out. Air should be mostly Good further west of the Cascades.

Most of eastern WA

Siberian smoke continues to cause Moderate/ USG air in much of eastern WA, with fires along the BC border, the Chelan Hills fire and other smaller fires also contributing. This is likely to continue through Tuesday, with any new fires adding more smoke to the mix. Some areas of Unhealthy air are possible.

When will it clear?

A wind shift and cool down happens in western WA on Tuesday, commencing a slow removal of smoke. Eastern WA has to wait until Wednesday. Winds are expected to be strong during the transition, raising fire growth concerns even as smoke flushes out.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Eurasian, Siberian, Alaskan and BC fires sending smoke over much of the northern US

Long range transport of wildfire smoke in full cry.

Most of Eastern WA has seen Moderate air since Thursday evening when smoke plumes from the north moved over the state. The Cascades has kept the smoke from reaching western WA thus far.

A satellite product showing fine particles throughout the atmosphere (known as Aerosol Optical Depth) looks like this. Yellow  --> Orange --> red = increasing smoke. Lots more smoke sitting to our north!

Forecast for eastern WA

Models suggest that this pattern of northerly flow will continue for a few more days and some of this smoke will continue to mix to the surface. Expect Moderate air during the night and USG-ish during the day throughout much of eastern WA. This is because nighttime temperature inversions act as a lid over the lower atmosphere and prevent smoke aloft mixing to the surface, although smoke already at the surface will continue to linger. More smoke will mix down during daytime.

Areas close to some of the many smaller fires could experience worse conditions. Please take note of the health precautions mentioned on this website.

Tri Cities Ozone

Conditions on Friday and Saturday are conducive for ozone formation, and might be slightly aided by some smoke. Lots of visitors expected at the boat races this weekend, likely adding to the traffic emissions. Moderate to USG ozone levels are very likely, so please do your part to reduce ozone- forming pollutants.

Western WA forecast

Some hints that winds might drive a bit of smoke west of the Cascades. Not expecting conditions to deteriorate beyond Moderate over the weekend. Any smoke that mixes down to the surface isnt expected to dissipate much until Tuesday. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Smoke to south, smoke to the north, smoke to the east and then some ozone

First things first. No major smoke impacts in the state right now and air is mostly Good, although there are areas of Moderate air close to fires in eastern WA and over western WA this morning. Here's yesterday's satellite picture overlaid with air monitoring data

Smoke to the south
Mainly from fires in southwestern Oregon, this smoke will remain to our south for the next few days.

Smoke to the north
The same northerly windflow that keeps the Oregon smoke at bay will push the Siberian wildfire smoke closer to Washington. As can be seen above, the northern BC air quality monitors didnt show very poor air yesterday, so a lot of this smoke might just remain aloft. However this morning's readings and satellite pictures suggest some smoke over western Washington, leading to Moderate air. Winds seem to move most of the smoke east of the Cascades but since none of the forecast models are seeing this smoke as yet, it is hard to say how much of it will mix to the surface. Expect air over the metro areas to be a mix of Good, Moderate and Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups through Friday at least.

The northerly flow will last through the weekend so the potential for Siberian smoke- depending on how much of it is present to our north- remains a risk, particularly in eastern WA. Winds shift a bit by Sunday and there might be enough of a southerly vector to transport some Oregon smoke into Western WA by then. Bears watching.

Smoke to the east
Several fires have been detected. One near the Okanogan County/ British Columbia border will likely be sending smoke into the Omak and Methow areas for a few more days. Expect periods of Moderate and USG air.

And finally, elevated ozone levels were observed in the Tri Cities yesterday (minimally influenced by wildfire smoke) and could be present again today. More on that topic in a newspaper article from a few days ago.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Spokane Prepping for Poor Air Quality

Written by,

Dr. Bob Lutz, Health Officer, Spokane Regional Health District

With Spokane’s history in recent summers of poor air quality due to regional wildfires, it is no longer an issue of “if” air quality will be a concern in the summer, but “when.”

Spokane Regional Health District is grateful to its partners like Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, Washington State Department of Health, Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), weather and fire officials, and so many more who join us in urging residents, when air quality is unhealthy, to take specific precautions to protect their health, like staying indoors. This year, however, we want our community to get ahead of the curve in preparing. There are several things people can be doing now to protect themselves and others before the smoke rolls in.

First, it helps to understand what wildfire smoke is and why it can be harmful. It is a mix of gases and fine particles that can make anyone sick. Breathing in smoke can have immediate health effects, including coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, stinging eyes, increased heartrate, headaches and tiredness. Certain populations are at risk for acute respiratory problems from wildfire smoke, such as those with asthma and chronic bronchitis. These individuals should have a plan in place with their medical provider to manage their respiratory and/or heart health. Children are also at increased risk due to their developing respiratory systems and breathing rates, especially when playing.

Based on air quality and health status, choose your summer activities wisely. Pay attention to local air quality reports. Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency offers a current, regional air quality index at spokanecleanair.org/current-air-quality. While you’re there, sign up for air quality alerts via email or text. The values are updated hourly and put more weight on the most recent air pollution reading.

When air quality enters the ‘Moderate’, or yellow range, if you have asthma, diabetes, lung or heart disease; have had a stroke; or are currently experiencing a respiratory infection, consider limiting your outdoor activities or choose those of lesser effort. This should definitely be your plan if we move into the orange range, or ‘Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups’.

For healthy individuals, the ‘Unhealthy’, or red range, is your signal to limit outdoor activities. In these conditions, everyone should avoid exercising outdoors and at-risk groups should stay indoors. Once we enter the purple and maroon ranges, everyone should stay indoors. You should close your windows and, if available, run the air conditioner on re-circulate. Wait until air quality is better before you go back outside.

For people who have to work outside, drink lots of water and check with your employer about taking more frequent breaks. According to L&I, employers are not required to provide masks and for good reason. As far as masks are concerned, paper "comfort" or "dust" masks are not the answer, and this applies to all individuals, not just outdoor workers. These masks are only designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust, meaning they do not protect lungs from the fine particles in smoke.

Respirator masks labeled N95 or N100 provide some protection, if, and I do emphasize if, they are fitted properly—a challenge when it comes to facial hair. These masks filter out some fine particles, but not the hazardous gases in smoke such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and acrolein. Respirator masks are also not intended for kids or long-term exposure. Our guidance is always to reduce exposure by staying indoors. More tips for a safe wildfire season can be found on our site at www.srhd.org

Dr. Bob Lutz

Dr. Lutz is a board-certified family medicine physician who is currently the health officer for Spokane County.

About Spokane Regional Health District

As a leader and partner in public health, Spokane Regional Health District protects, improves and promotes the health and well-being of people through evidence-based practices. The agency is one of 34 local public health agencies serving Washington state's 39 counties. It has approximately 250 employees and serves a population of more than 500,000 in Spokane County. For more information visit www.srhd.org. The health district’s website offers comprehensive, updated information about Spokane Regional Health District and its triumphs in making Spokane a safer and healthier community. Become a fan of SRHD on Facebook to receive local safety and wellness tips. You can also follow the agency on Twitter @spokanehealth.

Fires sending smoke to Northeast Washington

Spokane and other parts of Eastern Washington appear to have been hit by smoke from fires near the US/Canadian border and possibly the Boylston Fire near Yakima early this morning.  The Boylston fire grew to 70,000 acres overnight and has the potential to generate a lot of smoke over a short period. Air quality has been Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in many parts of eastern Washington but has reached Unhealthy levels in others.  Winds from the west should push some of the smoke out of the area today, but we expect a resurgence of Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups air quality late tonight and Saturday morning.  Residents near the Canadian border in Okanogan county may also see smoky conditions in the cooler hours as smoke drains down the valleys from Canada.

Smoke traveling across eastern Washington into Idaho this morning - GOES-EAST Imagery

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Upriver Beacon Fire in Spokane and Fires in Oregon

The Upriver Beacon Fire near Camp Sekani Park has caused visible smoke and haze around Spokane.  Several crews responded to the fire and recent news reports say firefighters built a line completely around the 115 acre fire, minimizing the chance of more fire growth.  All mandatory evacuations have been lifted but Beacon Hill, Shields Park, and Camp Sekani are closed on Wednesday.  We expect the fire to cause smoke and haze in the area today, with southwesterly winds blowing most of the plume to the northeast of Spokane Valley.  Current air quality around the Spokane area is Moderate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, which could persist throughout the day.

There are also fires in Oregon that have pushed smoke towards Walla Walla, Clarkston, and other communities in southeastern Washington.  The Substation Fire has grown to nearly 30,000 acres and will continue to grow, but a new fire in Heppner was mostly put out.  Westerly winds are expected to blow smoke from Oregon to the east, mostly missing Washington, but causing some intermittent Moderate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups smoke intrusions for the next couple days.

PM2.5 in micrograms per cubic meter for Clarkston, Walla Walla, and Spokane

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Light smoke over Seattle courtesy of Kings Landing Fire near Shelton

Moderate air quality was recorded at several Seattle area monitors this morning. It appears that winds are transporting smoke from a 62-acre fire near Shelton. Communities closer to the fires are likely experiencing worse conditions.

Assuming the fire continues to burn, models suggest that winds will transport light smoke over the area until Wednesday, with Moderate air expected tonight and tomorrow morning. Smoke should dissipate during the afternoons, leading to Good air. A wind shift and increase in speed is likely on Wednesday evening through Thursday afternoon, so less smoke impacts are expected during that time.

Please make use of the resources on this blog to safeguard your health during smoke episodes.

Friday, July 13, 2018

2018 wildfire season is at our doorstep. Are you ready?

First, the good news

As of now, there are no major fires or large areas of smoke anywhere in Washington State. Smaller fires have mostly burned out or are under control and yesterday's satellite picture overlaid with air quality data shows near-ideal conditions statewide. Green dots = Good air quality. Some light density smoke was present aloft between Walla Walla and Hermiston, OR.

Now for a few words of warning

The National Weather Service in Spokane released this graphic that says it all:

Thankfully there is little to no moisture associated with this cold front so the chance of lightning is low. So to get through this weekend unscathed, we need to minimize human- caused fires. Fire danger is high due to dryness, so we must be vigilant.

Winds will die down Sunday through Tuesday so smoke from any new fires will pool around the sources.

What can we do?

It goes without saying that we need to do our part to prevent human- caused fires. Plenty of resources on that topic available hereherehere and here. And, as explained in the previous post, prepare yourself for smoke. It's only a matter of time before it shows up.

We will provide smoke forecasts on an as-needed basis, giving y'all as much lead time as we can. Keep watching this space.