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. Learn more.

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.