Thursday, October 3, 2019

Information: See you in Summer 2020

Just when it was looking like our smoke season was starting early, Mother Nature nipped it in the bud and we had a fairly mild 2019 for wildfire smoke, especially compared to the last few years. Shew! It was nice to get a breather - literally!

In his last post, Ranil explains the data and science-y stuff around our low-smoke year.

As much as we wish to never have another wildfire season, we’re prepared to return to this blog around July 2020 with smoke information, current conditions, forecasts, health tips, and more. 

In the meantime, here’s information and contacts for your off-season inquiries.

Current air quality conditions

The air monitoring map on this blog displays current data and is active all year long. Mobile users can find it here. For additional monitors, view the Monitoring & Forecasting tab.

Local air quality contacts

Have questions about smoke or air quality issues today? Contact your local clean air agency. Phone numbers, websites, and a printable map are available here. Also view the Local Information tab for additional county contacts including local health, emergency management, and sheriff’s offices. For emergencies, please call 911.

Current fires on the map

If you see fires on the monitoring map during the off-season, those are likely silvicultural prescribed fires. View a daily list of prescribed burn details from the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Be prepared for next wildfire season 

Get a jump on next wildfire season by being #SmokeReady. Here's 10 Tips for planning ahead to protect you and your family from smoke. Also view EPA's fact sheet "Prepare for Fire Season" for a checklist of steps to do now.

Many thanks

This blog is due to great partnerships between several Washington agencies and federal teams. We are grateful for their commitment and dedication to our Washington communities. We also thank you for your questions and comments, and for sharing this information with your neighbors. 

Have a wonderful winter and spring in our beautiful state of Washington. Breathe well.

Friday, August 30, 2019

This smoke season's anomalies explained, with a Labor day smoke forecast tacked on

Easy part first:

Western WA Labor day weekend smoke forecast
After a welcome dousing of rain yesterday and consistent on- shore flow this weekend, the fire risk will remain low. No major smoke impacts expected over the Labor day weekend so go ahead & enjoy the Good air, but please be diligent and prevent new fires. Too many reports of abandoned campfires, dragging chains and discarded cigarettes starting new fires.

Eastern WA smoke forecast
Two issues worth mentioning, although one of them may not amount to much:

  1. Some spotty smoke is present around Asotin County, likely from the Cow Fire in Oregon, and the area is likely to see intermittent Moderate air over the next few days. 
  2. All the smoke models are assuming that a few fires in the Okanogan- Wenatchee National Forest are actively pumping out smoke and they maybe right to some extent, but are likely overstating the magnitude. Haven't seen any measurable smoke impacts at Leavenworth, Chelan, the Methow Valley or Stehekin as yet and don't expect area air quality to degrade beyond Moderate on occasion.

Other than that, we're mostly expecting Good air provided there are no new fires. Warmer, dryer conditions are predicted to return mid week, reminding us that the fire season is not over yet.

WZUP with this wildfire smoke season?

Here's an animation showing how the worst air quality days in the last 2 wildfire seasons compared with this year. While 2019's worst day thus far wasn't even close to those of the previous two anomalously smoky years, it occurred so early in the season (May 31) and got us all worried about what might transpire. More so since the seasonal outlook available at that time called for a slightly warmer-than-normal and dryer-than-normal summer.
Thankfully, that smoky scenario hasn't played out this year. The chances of the smoke monster making a comeback are diminishing as the sun becomes more preoccupied with baking the southern hemisphere.

The # of wildfires burned by today in 2019 is lower than the low- smoke years of 2013 & 2016. How nice to be lagging behind!

# of fires nationwide
2019 (1/1/19 - 8/29/19)
2018 (1/1/18 - 8/29/18)
2017 (1/1/17 - 8/29/17)
2016 (1/1/16 - 8/29/16)
2015 (1/1/15 - 8/29/15)
2014 (1/1/14 - 8/30/14)
2013 (1/1/13 - 8/30/13)
Data source: National Interagency Fire Center

Here are some of the main meteorological factors that mitigated the build-up of smoke that was released from the few fires that did burn. I've only considered the anomalous smoke years of 2017 & 2018 in one of the graphics below (#2. wind vector animation).
  1. Less frequent high pressure systems over us
    Here's a comparison of the height at which atmospheric pressure reaches 500mb (usually around 18K feet above), showing differences between 5 recent summers (excluding 2017 & 2018), and 2019. Data are June- July composites from global weather models that have been re-analyzed after the observational data became available. 2019 August data aren't yet available.
    The yellow over our region suggests that upper level pressure in past years were 10- 20m higher than what we saw in June- July this year. Not an insignificant difference. Include 2017 & 2018 and the difference jumps to about 35m.

    Higher pressure = lighter winds, warmer temperatures and dryer air. All the factors needed for conducive fire behavior and poor smoke dispersion happened less frequently this year.

    An aside: notice how areas to our north & the Arctic had higher pressure this year than the last few. We had several early season fires in northern Alberta & Alaska. In fact the May 31 2019 smoke shown in the air quality map animation above mostly originated from northern Alberta.
  2. Stronger upper level winds aimed at the Pacific Northwest

    Here's how the 700mb level (about 10K feet above) winds in recent summers compared with 2019. Notice how 2019 winds aimed at the Pacific NW are stronger than their 2012- 2018 counterparts. More active weather impacting our region = less chance for air to stagnate. 
  3. Cooler upper air temperatures

    And now, a 850mb level (4500 feet above) temperature difference plot. 2-3C warmer in other years than 2019. For a two month average, that's quite a difference. Cooler upper level air temps this year = less ground level warming & drying out.
Why the region's seasonal climatic variables behaved this way is beyond the scope of this blog. This season's fire behavior is compared & contrasted in a recent interview. The interested reader can compare ground- based observations of temperature and precipitation each year, against historical norms using the following NWS links.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Eh? Whats that smoke over the Puget Sound and Yakima?

Around 11AM yesterday the satellites started detecting a large cloud of smoke from a hotspot in the Wenatchee National Forest in Yakima county, just east of Highway 410. This was from a 300-acre prescribed burn authorized by DNR. Smoke was buoyant and lofted over the Cascades courtesy of strong east winds. Here's what the satellite picture looked like at 5PM yesterday.

The fire was smoldering this morning and a further 230 acres were authorized for burning at the same location today. A little bit of the smoke that drifted west appears to have mixed to the surface this morning, with several Puget Sound area monitors recording Moderate air for a few hours. The latest smoke models show this dissipating by afternoon today. However the residual smoke could exacerbate the potential for ozone (smog) formation in the east slopes of the King/ Pierce County Cascades today, so air quality due to the combination of fine particles and ozone is likely to stay in the Moderate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups through late this evening. On-shore airflow overnight is likely to restore Good air quality to most of western WA by Thursday.

Since smoke models assume that fires continue to emit all day & night, they're predicting that the Yakima valley will see some smoke impacts today & tomorrow. Given such assumptions, it is hard to determine the amounts of smoke that will actually reach populated areas. Needless to say some smoke is projected to drain into the valley so nearby communities should brace for compromised air over the next day or so.

Models are also showing that smoke from the Cow Fire in Oregon (see above) is likely to brush the far southeastern part of the state by Thursday evening into Friday as the wind shifts. Amount of smoke is unknown at this time.

All this bears watching. We will post an update and a long weekend outlook on Thursday.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Summer returns this week, but what about smoke?

At the time of writing, the state is almost entirely cloud free. What you dont see clearly in this short satellite animation is a very thin layer of Alaskan smoke that is drifting over western WA, likely contributing a little fine particle pollution to our ground level monitors. Some Puget Sound area monitors briefly showed Moderate air this morning.
Western WA forecast

The Canadian model shows this smoke mostly blowing offshore and staying away after today. Winds wont become dead calm today or tomorrow, so chances of lingering smoke are low. Barring new fires in the area, fine particle pollution levels are expected to remain Good, with perhaps a few splotches of Moderate through Wednesday. Ozone however, is another story. See below.

Eastern WA forecast
No major fires at present, neither is the area expected to be downwind of any fires through Wednesday. However there's a long list of small fires at any given time, and conditions are right for their growth this week. Expecting mostly Good air through Wednesday except near fires. The public is strongly encouraged to do their due diligence and exercise utmost caution to prevent the spread of fires.

Conditions are right for ozone (smog) formation Tuesday & Wednesday on both sides of the Cascades. Problem spots are around Enumclaw and Yelm in western WA, and Kennewick in the east. Some periods of Moderate air should be expected. provides succinct information on proactive steps that can be taken to minimize ozone pollution.

However it must be mentioned that summer 2019 hasn't had many high ozone days. Here's a plot showing how Kennewick's ozone days and potential ozone days compared with past years. Potential ozone days (gray bars) are when the day's weather lined up with historical meteorological conditions under which elevated ozone levels were observed. It is clear that there were fewer days where weather was conducive for ozone this summer, even when the rest of the summer is taken in account.
Our next blog post will provide a smoke forecast for Labor Day weekend, and we will also explore some of the reasons why this summer has been a low smoke year thus far.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

No Smoke on the Horizon

The Williams Flats fire activity is low, with some minimal creeping and smoldering.  Firefighters estimate that it should be completely contained by this Friday. 

The NWCC Morning Brief states that holdover fires continue to be discovered in Washington/Oregon but they are exhibiting low fire behavior with minimal spread potential. No new large fires have been reported and forecast fire danger is mostly low to moderate.  However, there is still potential for brush fires in southeastern Washington.  Expect continued Good air quality across most of the state for the foreseeable future, with some occasional Moderate blips in select locations.

The weather forecast for the next few days shows dry and normal temperatures, with some marine layer clouds expected in western Washington.  Moderate winds are expected through the Cascade gaps during the afternoons for the next few days.  Widespread cloudy skies are expected this weekend, with continued northwesterly flow off the coast pushing clouds over eastern Washington.  Don't expect much precipitation, but a few showers are possible on Friday and Saturday.

No images of smoke to share (that's a good thing), but the GOES-West imagery showed some interesting cloud structures travelling across WA/OR border this morning:

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Dicey smoke forecast for north-eastern quadrant of the state, mostly OK elsewhere

As explained in the earlier forecast, air quality in the Spokane area hovered around Unhealthy levels overnight, with some relief during the afternoons. Here's the satellite picture from Wednesday afternoon.

Smoke from the Williams Flats fire continues to be a problem around the far eastern part of the Colville reservation and Spokane County. The Devoe Creek fire close to Stehekin and the Eagle Bluff fire along the Okanogan River valley in British Columbia are also sending smoke into north central WA and the Columbia Basin.

Another day of high temperatures on tap for most of eastern WA but a rather turbulent transition period over the next 2 days makes forecasting tough. A front approaches tonight, increases winds and thunderstorm risks, swirls the smoke around and then dumps some rain on the area. Smoke models are not showing huge improvements in air quality before Saturday evening and the wildcard is smoke from possible new fires.

It's not all bleak. Higher humidities, lower temperatures and some rain will help curtail fire spread, not to mention provide some relief from the searing heat. Here's what the UW-WRF model shows for 72-hr total precipitation totals by Sunday morning. Hitting all the right places, it seems:

So while its hard to pinpoint specific places and times for smoke impacts, the best advice we can offer folks in the northeastern quadrant of the state is to prepare for Unhealthy air close to fires, and Moderate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups elsewhere. 

Good news for western WA: a strong marine push has ventilated out most of western WA and clouds are likely to hang around today (sorry summer aficionados 😧), alleviating smoke concerns for a while... provided potential thunderstorms today & tomorrow dont spark off new fires.

In other news
  • The Dept of Ecology and the US Forest Service have installed temporary air quality monitors in Cle Elum and Stehekin respectively, to track smoke impacts there. Data can be viewed on the map above. 
  • Tri Cities ozone is likely to stay just below the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups threshold today, as a wind-shift in the afternoon puts the brakes on ozone-formation. Timing of the winds are key; a delay of a few hours could push the area into USG air.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Spokane area smoke:
In the Spokane area, downwind of the Williams Flats fire on the Colville Reservation, smoke levels have been hovering in the Unhealthy-for-Sensitive-Groups to Unhealthy-for-everyone range for the couple of days.  Currently there is heavier smoke in the Green Bluff - Mount Spokane area.  For a lot of folks - mainly the elderly, children and anyone with heart or lung disease, this poses a health concern. Over 40% of the population falls into the Sensitive Groups category.  So even if you don’t mind the smoke, understand a lot of people are likely being affected. The longer air quality stays bad like this, the more people can be bothered. When the air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups, people with heart or lung disease, children, people over 65, and pregnant women should limit outdoor exertion, and when the air quality gets worse than that, everyone should limit outdoor exertion. Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease from smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. Visit WDOH’s Smoke from Fires for more on steps to reduce your exposure to smoke.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Eastern WA smoke pummeling the funneling point (Spokane) until Thursday

Eastern WA air quality and forecast
Spokane is the meeting point for smoke from eastern WA fires exiting the state. Several area monitors recorded Unhealthy air for some hours overnight. Here's what the satellite picture looked like just before sunset.

After dragging some smoke into the Columbia Basin this morning, winds will redirect it all at Spokane overnight today. Expect areas to reach Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups and Unhealthy at various times of the day Tuesday & Wednesday. In general, worse air at night and some relief during the afternoons. The National Weather Service in Spokane issued an Air Quality Alert to cover this situation.

Winds pick up late Friday but fire weather concerns also creep in by Saturday. Stay tuned.

Western WA
Light smoke from distant sources will add a wee bit of fine particle pollution to the urban mix, leading to a few Moderate hours in the Seattle area through about Wednesday evening. Barring impacts from localized fires, expect mostly Good air.

Ozone is not released directly by sources but is formed when certain gases react together under the right weather conditions. Downwind of the Seattle- Tacoma metro area, ozone levels were Moderate yesterday and are expected to touch USG this evening. Kennewick might also see some Moderate levels Tuesday & perhaps Wednesday. More info on reducing ozone levels and protecting yourself can be found here.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

8/4/2019 Here, there, and everywhere

There's a little smoke in the air throughout much of the state from a general mass that's floating in the atmosphere above us. A little smoke from Alaska, a little from Canada, and according to NASA scientists, much of the diffuse haze we're seeing throughout the state is traveling to us all the way from the huge fires burning in Russa.  More details at the link:

Outlines of smoke visible from satellite.
Closer to home we're also seeing air quality impacts in the eastern part of the state where areas downwind of the rapidly growing Williams Flats fire on the Colville Reservation are seeing smoke in the Moderate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups range this morning. Dispersion models indicate that smoke will move to the south and into the Columbia basin throughout the day which may lighten impacts in the Spokane area but cause smoke in Ritzville, Moses Lake and Kennewick before moving back toward the east toward Spokane again tomorrow. Williams Flats is reported as a grass fire. Grass fires can grow very rapidly but are often of short duration. Let's hope this one is brought under control in just a few days. There is also a new fire in the Idaho panhandle that is worth watching.

Williams Flats fire

Air quality downwind of Williams Flats fire (as of 8am Sunday)

Current Large Fires in Washington.
Williams Flats.  5 mi SE of Keller, WA . Start 8/2. Full Suppression. Cause: Unknown. 10,438 acres (+4,798). 0% containment. Active fire behavior. Grass. Structures and wildlife habitat threatened. Road and area closures.
Devore Creek. 3 mi SW of Stehekin, WA. Start 7/26. Confine/Point Zone Protection. Cause: Lightning. 180 (+0) acres. 0% containment. Moderate fire behavior. Timber. Trail closures.
Left Hand. 17 mi NW of Naches, WA. Start 7/23. Full Suppression. Cause: Lightning. 3,406 (+0) acres. 85% containment. Minimal fire behavior. Timber. Structures Threatened. Road and Area closures. Evacuation notifications.
Kusshi Creek. 37 mi S of Yakima, WA. Start 7/24. Confine/Full Suppression. Cause: Lightning. 953 (+0) acres. 90% containment. Minimal fire behavior. Timber.
Sulphur.  6 mi SE of Connell, WA. Start 8/2. Full Suppression. Cause: Unknown. 1,050 acres (+50. 100% containment. Minimal fire behavior. Last report on morning briefing unless significant activity occurs.

Devore Creek Fire - August 4, 2019 Smoke Update

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

7/30/2019 Air Quality and Wildfires Update

So far this summer wildfire smoke impacts to air quality have been fairly minimal. Significant smoke from numerous large wildfires in Alaska and Canada barely brushed the state by traveling instead to the east and the Great Lakes region. But a few active wildfires burning in Washington are causing light smoke impacts in the south central portion of the state. The largest is the Left Hand fire burning to the west/northwest of Yakima. Winds have moved the smoke from this fire to the south/southeast and the town of Sunnyside has seen multiple days of Moderate air quality conditions due to smoke from Left Hand and from the Pipeline fire. Other nearby communities from Ellensburg to Toppenish, Naches, and Yakima have experienced light smoke at times and are likely to continue to see smoke until the Left Hand fire is brought under control. Air quality impacts from Moderate to short periods of Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups can be expected in this area. Somewhat windy conditions today (Tuesday) could cause the Left Hand fire to grow. The nearby Pipeline fire is at 95 % containment with minimal fire behavior so should not contribute to degraded air quality much longer. See map below for location of these fires.

Left Hand.  31 mi NW of Yakima, WA. Start 7/23. Full Suppression. Cause: Lightning. 2,500 (+0) acres. 15% containment. Active fire behavior. Timber. Structures Threatened. Road and Area closures.  More details here:
Pipeline.  7 mi N of Selah, WA. Start 7/23. Full Suppression. Cause: Unknown. 6,515 (+0) acres. 95% containment. Minimal fire behavior. Brush. Area closures. Transfer of command back to local unit will occur today.

Location of Left Hand and Pipeline fires.
Another fire to watch over time is Devore Creek located in extremely rugged terrain high in the Glacier Peak wilderness near the north end of Lake Chelan. Firefighters on the scene in Stehekin report that air quality there has remained good. Due to the remote location and extreme terrain, firefighters expect this fire will not be 100 percent extinguished until a season ending rain or snow event in the fall. Some visible light smoke is possible at times around the north end of Lake Chelan, Stehekin, and Holden Village but unless fire conditions change, air quality is expected to remain Good.

Devore Creek.  3 mi SW of Stehekin, WA. Start 7/26. Confine/Point Zone Protection. Cause: Unknown. 150 (+0) acres. 0% containment. Timber. Trail closures. More details here:
Location of Devore Creek fire.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Smoke in Central Washington from Local Fires

Smoke plumes were visible this morning over Central Washington, and residents around Yakima are experiencing air quality in the Moderate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups range.  The smoke in Yakima will likely stick around for most of the day due to low winds and nearby fires.  Other residents in Central Washington that are near local fires could also experience some modest smoke.  

GOES-West Imagery (9 a.m. Thursday)

There was a lot of lightning earlier this week, and with it came new fire starts.  Fire fighters have been working hard to suppress and contain fires this week, with many put out quickly.  The NWCC Morning Brief  lists the remaining active fires that are not yet contained:
  • Kusshi Creek fire on the Yakama Indian Reservation: 320 acres (timber)
  • Left Hand Fire about 30 miles NW of Yakima (Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest): 160 acres (timber)
  • Pipeline Fire between Yakima and Ellensburg: 4000 acres (brush)
  • Desert Canyon Fire about 15 miles NNE of Wenatchee near Lake Entiat: 1000 acres (grass).
  • Graham Fire about 10 miles SW of Cheney: 100 acres (timber)
  • Saddle Mountain Fire just north of Mattawa: 350 acres (grass)
Currently the fires are relatively small, but fire growth is expected as winds pick up over the next few days. Holdover fires are also likely to appear in the next several days. In general, fire behavior potential continues to slowly increase across the region.

Fires Detected by Satellite in Central Washington (July 25)

Temperatures will heat up and get drier today thru Friday, but it will be breezy Friday night into Saturday with a chance of thunderstorms in the Cascades. This will keep temperatures normal over the weekend but it will heat up again next week which will allow more fire growth.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Not much to worry about locally for now. Will this be a low-smoke summer?

Air quality remains Good statewide and will likely remain that way for the next few days. Some rain expected (< 0.5", but that's a lot for WA in July) and clouds are already streaming in, with temperatures running close to normal. Not great for summer but very good for air quality.

Here's how air quality looks nationally as of yesterday. Red triangles are fire locations and colored dots are air quality readings, the worst of which is "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups". Smoke plumes are shaded gray.

The Great Lakes and Northeast is being impacted by smoke from fires in Manitoba & Ontario, while Alaskan smoke is what we're watching closer to home.

Here's what the fire danger assessment for north America is today. The bigger fires are mostly in Canada & Alaska thanks to very dry & hot conditions to our north.

What does this all mean for the rest of our summer? Are all those doom & gloom predictions of the "new normal" and smoke monsters laid to rest?

  1. Haha, I wish! Too early to tell.
  2. All it takes is two weeks of hot & dry conditions for the fire risk to ramp up significantly. 
  3. Even if (2) doesn't materialize, smoke transport from fires elsewhere can cause lots of air quality woes.
  4. And we won't know about (3) until a few days before the event, because longer range models aren't terribly accurate with those finer details.
So while enjoying the summer air, keep an eye on this blog. We'll do our best to keep you posted.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Weekend statewide forecast: some Alaskan smoke did add to the fireworks but should dissipate soon

How much damage did we do to our air yesterday?

Seems like we got through the 4th of July fireworks with no major, widespread degradation in air quality. North Bend and Marysville briefly recorded Unhealthy air last evening and several other sites are reporting Moderate air this morning. There is evidence that light amounts of Alaskan wildfire smoke did mix down to the surface today, as advertised by the Canadian smoke model. More on that below for anyone interested.

Weekend forecast

Expect Moderate air in splotches today as residual smoke clears out slowly during the day, and thereafter it should be mostly Good air statewide this weekend. There is nothing in the forecast over the next 5 days to suggest a major warm up or drying out. Temperatures around normal and slightly higher than normal precip all work against wildfires. We'll keep our focus on smoke transported from more distant sources.

About that Alaskan wildfire smoke theory

On Wednesday, the Canadian smoke model (also called "Firework", incidentally) was the only one which predicted Alaskan smoke will mix to the surface this morning. It was the most pessimistic of the suite of smoke models we use, but proved correct. How do we know that? Consider the following:

  • Timing of some of the increases in fine particle pollution levels: firework- induced (i.e. the loud, smoky and flashy ones, not complex software running on servers north of 49 degrees latitude) pollution typically spikes on the evening and night of July 4th and declines thereafter. Several sites in eastern WA show concentrations flatlining at Moderate levels into this morning without much of a decline. Sunnyside, Chelan and the Methow Valley in particular. 
  • Monitors in southern British Columbia, where fireworks aren't a factor on 7/4, also showed gradual increases this AM. While it is possible that some WA firework pollution may have been transported there (travel time of a few hours), the concentrations haven't declined like they did at our firework- smoke affected sites. Also, not all sites close to border crossings show evidence of a plume passing by late at night.
  • Satellite pictures this morning show a thin layer of smoke aloft and the above points suggest it did mix to the surface, albeit in small quantities.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Statewide forecast for Independence Day and beyond

Good news

Current air quality is Good statewide and there are no major fires at present. Atmospheric dispersion is expected to be somewhat OK through the weekend with temperatures, humidities and winds not given to rapid fire growth.

So... I can have a blast with fireworks, right? The atmosphere will self- clean, wont it?
Not so fast! A few things to consider:

  • Fireworks not only cause smoke but are also responsible for starting several new fires - something we can ill afford. This can't be over-stressed: as far as it depends on us, inject as little smoke as possible into the atmosphere and exercise utmost caution with pyrotechnics.
  • Dispersion is "somewhat OK", not fabulous. The self- cleaning cycle will only do so much for us, and we must not overwhelm it with preventable smoke.
  • Smoke from Alaskan fires is at our doorstep, or should I say rooftop, poised to gate crash the 4th of July party. Models are sending mixed messages whether or not some smoke will mix to the surface. The Canadian model suggests light amounts dropping down east of the Cascades.

The last thing we want to wake up to on the 5th of July is a dose of wildfire smoke AND firework smoke, especially when the latter is within our control.

Wishing our readers a happy & safe July 4th!  

Monday, July 1, 2019

Statewide Forecast - Good Air Quality in Washington

Alaska and Canada are still experiencing several wildfires and a lot of smoke.  We may see a wispy tongue of that smoke make it's way to the B.C./Washington border early Tuesday morning, but air quality should still remain Good over the next couple days

People will be testing out fireworks this week and typically we see more wildfires start around 4th of July due to human causes.  Please be extra cautious around dry grass/brush if you plan on celebrating with fireworks this week.  In particular, there are strong winds forecast in the Columbia Basin over the next couple days, and with it comes the possibility of brush fires.

National Weather Service - Spokane Office - Weather Story - June 1, 2019

Friday, June 28, 2019

Information - June 28: Be Smoke Ready!

Despite the thunder and lightning earlier this week, we thankfully haven’t seen much smoke in Washington skies yet this year. All it takes is one spark, though, so ask yourself: Are you #SmokeReady? Here are 10 tips to help you prepare:

Plan ahead with your doctor: If you or a family member has asthma, or suffers from heart or lung disease, have a plan to manage your condition. Children, pregnant women, and people over age 65 are especially at risk during smoke events. Learn more.

Get HEPA filters, recirculate your AC, and share space: Use a HEPA filter in your home’s central air system or your air conditioner unit or air purifier. Learn how to turn your AC to “recirculate” in both your home and your car. Also, check with your neighbors. If you or your neighbor doesn’t have good air filtration or air conditioning at home, arrange to share spaces with those who do.

Employers, plan ahead with your employees: Have a plan in place for employees who work outdoors. Consider alternate work assignments or relocation to reduce employee exposure to smoke. For staff that work indoors, ensure your air filtration system is protective for smoke. Prepare for employees to face childcare closures, home emergencies, etc. Check with Washington Labor & Industries for guidance.

Have a Plan B for outdoor events: Have a contingency plan prepared in case you need to cancel, reschedule, or move an outdoor event indoors. (Make sure the indoor venue has good air filtration!) If you have children in summer camps or childcare, ask the organizers about their smoke plan. Check with your county health department about cancellation guidelines.

Buy a respirator mask: If you’ll be outdoors long enough to need a mask, check into an N95 or N100 respirator now. Plan ahead to ensure it's properly fitted. Masks do not work for everyone, though, so test the fit and comfort before you need it. Updated for 2020-2021: Washington Dept. of Health's guidance on protecting yourself from wildfire smoke during the the COVID-19 pandemic includes mask info.

Stock up: Have several days of water, groceries, and family needs on hand so you don’t have to go out when it’s smoky.

Don’t forget your pets: If the air quality is forecasted to be poor while you’re away from home, plan ahead to keep your pets inside or with a caregiver. Learn more.

Learn the air quality index numbers and colors: During periods of poor air quality, watch for air quality alerts, pay attention to numbers and colors of air quality monitors, and know when to limit your time outdoors.

Get alerts: Sign up to receive air quality email alerts for your zip code. Also, bookmark or subscribe to this blog for statewide air quality and wildfire updates.

Become an expert!: Learn more about being Smoke Ready at EPA’s Smoke-Ready Toolbox for Wildfires and Washington Department of Health’s Smoke From Wildfires Toolkit.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Statewide forecast — June 21: Mostly smoke free weekend ahead, but...

Good news on the first day of summer: no major smoke events to report. A new fire did start at the Yakima Training Center yesterday but does not appear to be creating a whole lot of smoke now. Statewide air quality remains Good.

Good news for the first 3 days of summer: no major smoke intrusions expected statewide. We have been watching some ominous model simulations which bring a whiff of smoke from as far away as Manitoba to our state's borders (yeah that's what certain weather patterns are capable of!) but not expecting any substantial smoke impacts.

Notes of caution for the first weekend of summer: despite the lack of hot temperatures, strong-ish winds in eastern WA will help rapidly spread any new fires. We don't need any of that so please do your part to keep us all safe.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Wildfire information — June 13: No smoke at the moment but be careful out there.

Did you know that a majority of wildfires in Washington are human-caused? This is a very good time to be especially careful with fire in areas shown on the map below. The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning for parts of central Washington indicating critical fire weather conditions are forecast. The NWS issues a Red Flag Warning, in conjunction with land management agencies, to alert people to an ongoing or expected critical fire weather pattern. The combination of expected high temperatures, dry conditions, and gusty winds today (Thursday) have led to the need for this warning.

More details on the situation are available from the NWS-Spokane office at this link:

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Statewide forecast — June 11: Clear Skies and Sun Sun Sun!

The massive fires in Alberta are still spewing smoke, but none of that will make its way to our skies this week.  Forecasts call for clear skies and Good air quality.  Wildfire smoke should not be a problem in Washington this week.

Temperatures will peak in the 90s on Wednesday for counties in the Columbia Basin, with very little wind. It will still be hot in the Columbia Basin on Thursday as winds pick up, but high temperatures will drop down to the mid-80s on Friday.

Other parts of the state will also get quite hot, hitting mid-80s or higher on Wednesday.  Luckily, westerly winds are expected to pick up on Thursday afternoon and this will be accompanied by clouds and a cooling trend.

While we don't expect wildfire smoke this week, let's do our part to keep it that way!  It's very important for people to practice fire safety on hot/dry days.  Dry grasses are especially susceptible to human-caused ignition.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Statewide forecast — June 7: Cool, Wet, and Clean Air this Weekend... Warming Up Next Week

This weekend should be clear of any wildfire smoke, with Good air quality expected.  Conditions will be cool, cloudy, and wet in most parts of the state.  Lightning is a concern for fire starts, but the cool temperatures and expected precipitation should abate the potential for new wildfires.  Furthermore, the Fire Danger Index is currently low to moderate for most of the state.

However, a warming and drying trend is expected to start on Sunday, and by the middle of next week we will see temperatures reach the 90s! This will increase the chance of wildfires and smoke in the Pacific Northwest.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Statewide forecast — June 5: Highway 243 fire will "hose down" the Columbia Basin & Spokane with smoke. Rest of the state largely smoke free

The highway 243 fire in Grant County has grown to over 15,000 acres now and is 25% contained. Spokane recorded brief incursions of Unhealthy air yesterday, as high winds sent wavy plumes of smoke to several counties.

Since little smoke concerns exist elsewhere in the state through Friday, the rest of this post will only cover smoke from the Hwy 243 fire.

Strong winds with directional shifts will cause plumes to impact a wide swathe of downwind areas at different times. Not expecting much precipitation to help with firefighting or smoke dissipation. Smoke model animations look like someone is waving a water jet around the Columbia Basin! Here's how some models depict plumes between now and 11AM on Thursday. For those interested, different colors of these ensemble mean forward trajectories correspond to starting heights between 100m and 2000m AGL.

Given the fire growth, it ls likely that several areas will see air quality varying between Moderate and Unhealthy at different times. Worse close to the fires. Generally worse air during the day and slightly lower concentrations at night. Expect this behavior through Thursday.

This blog contains several resources to protect your health during wildfire smoke events. See Stay safe!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Statewide forecast — June 4: Spoke too soon. A new fire in Grant County is blowing smoke into the Columbia Basin

A fast moving fire, now estimated at 3000 acres close to Highway 243 in Grant County is clearly visible on satellite images and its smoke was observed at monitors in Mesa, Rosalia and Ritzville. No intel on the cause yet.

Strong-ish west winds are blowing the smoke into the basin and are expected to continue fanning the flames today. A breezy cold front passage tomorrow will only worsen fire spread. But the same winds also disperse smoke downwind of the fire (except right by the fire, where plumes can be concentrated).

Expecting air quality to vary between Moderate and Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Franklin, Adams and parts of Whitman Counties between now and Thursday. Worse closer to the fire.

In other areas, the only smoke will be from fires we create. We dont need any of that so lets do our part to prevent fires.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Statewide forecast — June 3: Little to no smoke expected statewide this week

Quick update to let our readers know that the wildfire smoke risk is low this work week. Good on-shore winds & light precipitation will result in mostly Good air statewide. Enjoy the great outdoors!

Friday, May 31, 2019

Statewide forecast — May 31: Wildfire smoke is back and so are we. Expect light smoke over eastern WA this weekend

It would have been great if we could have wished our readers a "not so bad" 2019 wildfire smoke season. But smoke from Alberta has forced us back to business by the end of May. Fortunately, the levels in eastern WA are not that severe and are expected to be no worse that Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups this weekend. Most areas will record Good or Moderate air.

This pair of satellite images from yesterday and this AM show smoke from northern Alberta fires flowing down the Okanogan and Columbia River valleys into eastern WA.

Smoke is mixing down to the surface, and the fine particle pollution monitors have recorded a slight increase since this AM. Here's a 3-day timeseries of a few monitors in eastern WA.

Eastern WA weekend forecast

Models suggest some Alberta smoke will slosh around this weekend, initially receding from the Cascade foothills and Columbia Basin, being confined to the far eastern part of the state (including Spokane) before rebounding Sunday & Monday. Again, not expecting a lot of smoke. But the cat among the pigeons is the risk of lightning in the Cascades and NE Washington and the new fires this might spark off between now and Saturday evening. Spotty downpours are expected but their pollution- cleansing and fire- dousing potential may not be harnessed entirely if they're not in the right place at the right time.

Western WA weekend forecast

Little or no wildfire smoke is expected to reach the surface in western WA, but some light smoke aloft could make sunsets prettier. Smoke from local fires cannot be ruled out. See the section titled "Prescribed Burns" in the "Fire Information" tab above.