Usually by this time in October we’re thinking about rain, Halloween, and all things fall. We’re certainly not discussing wildfire smoke (or the Mariners!). Wildfire smoke impacts in Washington State usually occur in August and September. Average statewide fine particle (PM2.5) concentrations since 2000 agree with this assessment—and this year we are observing higher than usual PM2.5 concentrations in October. The figure below shows daily average PM2.5 data for all statewide monitoring sites since 2000, with the years 2000-2021 in grey and 2022 highlighted by the red trace.
Phil’s annual accumulation plots posted the other day are a great illustration of the cumulative exposure to PM2.5 throughout the year. Looking at average statewide PM2.5 concentrations, while 2022 is gradually increasing in exposure thanks to the past few weeks, the cumulative average PM2.5 concentration is less than recent years with larger fires or smoke that blanketed the entire state for weeks (i.e., 2017, 2018, and 2020).
And what about different regions in 2022? Smoke impacts started later in the year for most of the state with minimal impacts before September, and Central Washington has seen the worst of the smoke thanks to its proximity to the most active fires.
Looking at a few Central Washington air quality monitoring sites that have been most impacted this season, these graphics are a great tool to visualize how wildfire smoke over the course of a few weeks impacts the total PM2.5 exposure. The horizontal red line on each panel is the annual National Ambient Air Quality Standard for PM2.5 (we want to be well below this line!), and each point is the daily average colored by its respective AQI category.
Unfortunately, impacts from active fires in the Cascades continue in the Methow, Wenatchee, and western mountain valleys. The Puget Sound may also be impacted by wildfire smoke starting tomorrow. Check back here for more information and be sure to take a look at DOH's answers to questions about health impacts of wildfire smoke.
I wonder what the graphs would look like weighted by population size. While the Western WA line is the lowest but climbing, when you factor it how many people are affected here, the cumulative amount of smoke breathed is by far highest in this region, which makes this year particularly discouraging as the Bolt fire lingers on and we won't like get relief until Oct 21 with the first real rains of the season. While the smoke hasn't been as acute as other years, this year feels worse with it lingering for over a month now.ReplyDelete
I agree that the lingering smoke is very discouraging and we're all looking forward to the first rainy days of fall! And despite its higher population, Western WA has been subject to fewer unhealthy or worse days of smoke than Central WA. Weighting the graphs by population is a great idea--I'll keep that in mind for a future post.Delete
Thank you for all of your posts- they are much appreciated! What are the forecasts looking like for Friday through Sunday regarding wildfire smoke?ReplyDelete
As of now, the dry and warm conditions are going to continue. Easterly winds increasing on Friday through Sunday likely bringing smoke into the Puget Sound (potentially USG conditions).Delete
Also unlikely to see many improvements in the Central WA areas near active fires with the easterly winds and limited mixing.
is the forecast manually created? Lots of red right now but the forecast was for much better conditions todayReplyDelete
Forecast method depends on your location. See here for the methodology: https://enviwa.ecology.wa.gov/Documents/SmokeForecast.pdf Also note that forecasts are for 24-hour avg, not max hourly.Delete
Who is accountable for the decisions that result in the air quality impacts like we've seen across the Puget Sound region in the last month? While recognizing that some of this (drought, global warming, wind / weather patterns) is uncontrollable, some of it is a direct result of a decision to not pursue a suppression strategy for the Bolt Creek Fire.ReplyDelete
I recognize that air quality impact is but one of many tradeoffs to consider (such as firefighter safety, protection of property, fire's role in the natural cycle, etc.), and appreciate the spirit of inter-agency cooperation evidenced in this blog, but how that translates to accountability (who made a decision and what factors did they consider -- and specifically how was the decision to sacrifice air quality weighed against other factors) is not at all clear. Is that a DNR call, or does it trace elsewhere?
In general, air quality concerns are not the objective of active wildfire management. You can read about the Bolt Creek fire management activity here: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/8417/ which says that currently there are 200 personnel working on that fire. You may also find these previous comment replies helpful, which note some of the strategies used and limitations: https://wasmoke.blogspot.com/2022/10/high-pressure-trapping-smoke-imapcts.html?showComment=1665161111871#c5960259129500147452 and https://wasmoke.blogspot.com/2022/10/stagnant-air-through-weekend-brief.html?showComment=1665417844425#c3446547577665460349Delete
Hello! I have a question regarding the gap along the whole swath that runs from north to south on the second map. Does nobody live there? Are they no air monitors? Maybe there are monitors, but there are also technology reasons they don't work there? I just don't know. But I do know that east Skagit is generally the smokiest so I thought I would ask. If people do live here, what can we do to get better information for this area?ReplyDelete
I think you are referring to the forecast map, which does not have complete state coverage because the forecast system uses observations in the algorithm. The polygons shown in the forecast are pinned to permanent air quality monitors operated by regulatory agencies. You can read about that map here: https://enviwa.ecology.wa.gov/Documents/SmokeForecast.pdf Regarding lack of monitors in your area, the Ecology Monitoring FAQ ( https://enviwa.ecology.wa.gov/home/text/310#FAQ ) states: "Ecology and our partners operate a large air monitoring network with approximately 80 monitoring sites throughout the state. While we cannot monitor everywhere, we prioritize our monitoring efforts based on factors such as community size and expected air quality impacts. In communities without a monitor, air quality scientists use the data collected from nearby sites and air pollution models to estimate air pollution levels. Ecology also uses temporary mobile monitoring to characterize air pollution in areas where models suggest a potential air pollution problem."Delete
In your “And what about different regions” paragraph and graph you left out eastern Washington. Was that because we aren’t currently impacted? I know we’ve had smoky conditions in 2022.ReplyDelete
NorthEast WA and SouthEast WA are two separate lines on the graph (grey and pink lines).Delete
I find the graphs very helpful, both in terms of framing this against other years, as well as showing the unusual timing of this year's smoke. Hopefully you'll update these at the end of next week or end of October.ReplyDelete
I was wondering if you could publish updated graphs for 2022, now that the smoke has (hopefully) concluded.ReplyDelete