August 06, 2014

The Smoky Northwest

On Monday morning I took a flight out of Seattle-Tacoma Airport and was startled by the amount of smoke I saw on both sides of the Cascades:  the Northwest was covered by a low-level layer of murk.

First, on the west side, approaching Mt. Rainier.  You can see the smoke layer below roughly 12,000 ft.

And looking down over eastern Washington.... not exactly clear.

Right now there are over a dozen major fires burning, mainly over eastern Oregon and Washington, with the majority on the eastern slopes of the Cascades.   Why there?  Lots of lightning, lots of fuels, dry conditions, and very warm temperatures.

You can see a lot of smoke over the eastern Cascade slopes in this high resolution satellite picture on Sunday.

And a larger view shows a regions of substantial smoke stretching from NW Oregon into SE Washington.  A lot of that smoke moved northward on Monday.  Where did it come from?

The image from the satellite on Saturday is came from the big fires over the Oregon Cascades.

Air quality today was ok west of he Cascades...not so good over the northeastern Cascade slopes with air downright unhealthy (red dot) in Leavenworth and not great in Chelan and Winthrop (orange dot).

Finally, there were some amazing temperature records in July.   Several locations in eastern Washington (such as Wenatchee, Omak, and Yakima) had the warmest July on record (mean monthly temperatures).  Several others had the second warmest on record (Pasco, Spokane, and Pullman).  Seattle had its second warmest July as well.   These are major records.  Such heat combined with occasional lightning events has had its effects.

What is the Climate Prediction Center's 6-10 day forecast for temperature (see below).  You guessed it:warm and dry.


  1. "Why there? Lots of lightning, lots of fuels, dry conditions, and very warm temperatures."

    Yes, "lots of lightning." Yes, "dry and very warm." No, not "lots of fuels." Eastern Washington's Carlton Complex, the state's largest fire in recorded history, burned over mostly sagebrush and grass. Measured in tons/acre, not a "lot of fuels" by any stretch.

    When ignition sources and weather are propitious for fire, any fuel amounts > bare pavement will suffice.

  2. Warm, indeed. I went to Foss lakes Saturday and it was quite hot, until we got a thunderstorm around noon. On Sunday I went to Twin Lakes near Fish Lake... At 2825 feet the water was so warm I was able to swim a mile in complete comfort. (I was just barely out of the smoke zone.) It is quite a treat to be able to do that in the mountains... the only other time I had the pleasure was on July 31, 2009, at the end of that historic heat wave.

  3. Re: Andy Stahl: No, timber with grass understory is the primary fuel for the Carlton Complex. Heavy fuels have been implicated:

  4. A very unusual amount of instability and convection heading our way for the upcoming week. The NWS forecast discussion is calling for ULL's off the California/Oregon border to spin up copious amounts of SSE flow and the result will be lots of chances for lightning beginning Monday night, continuing into the end of next week. Hope we get enough moisture to mitigate the firefighting efforts.

  5. This wind map is so cool, artistic and informative you have to see it.,23.12,835


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