August 22, 2015

Air Quality is Worse In Portland, Oregon Than In Beijing

Portland has been hit by one of the worst air quality events in recent history, with levels of particulates far exceeding those in Beijing.

Portland around 6 PM Saturday,
I just got off the phone from someone in Portland...the air smells like wood smoke, visibility is heavily reduced, and  the sun's rays weak and ineffective. It is something out of a post-apocalyptic disaster world.

Here are the amazing numbers.   Let's look at the concentration of PM2.5, small particles capable of pushing deep into your lungs.  Nasty stuff.  EPA and air quality agencies put out strident warnings when this gets to 100 (Unhealthy levels!)  The current number in Portland is 229!   Very, very bad.

Some of the measurements in nearby communities (like Beaverton and Hillsboro) are even worse.

But a ten-hour flight to Beijing would bring substantial relief.   Here are the latest numbers.  Thirty eight.   Nice.

And most of the Beijing area is FAR better than Portland.

A recent satellite image shows the smoke right over Portland. 

One reason Portland and vicinity is being hit so hard is because of the Columbia Gorge.  There is easterly flow in the Gorge, so some of the eastern Washington gunk is coming down the Gorge at low levels, as illustrated by the surface weather map below.

Want to see how bad it is in the Gorge?  Here are current (6:30PM Saturday) conditions

 And here are pristine conditions.

When will this smokey interlude end west of the Cascade crest?  On Monday when marine air pushes in the heat relaxes. But there is a downside to this change:

Winds will increase over the eastern slopes of the Cascades, enhancing fire danger.

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