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:

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.