Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Ash is Falling in Seattle

The updated forecast for Seattle:   ash flurries today with low visibility and cooling smoke shade.  

I have been forecasting around here for a long time and have never seen a situation like this, with ash falling around western Washington and a smoke cloud so dense one would think it is low stratus deck.   No sun was visible this morning.

I am mean this is something new.

Outside my home there is ash on all horizontal surfaces.   To illustrate, here is a photo taken by Logan Johnson, the head of the Seattle NWS office, from his home in Bothell.  His car looks like it has a bad case of dandruff.


At the UW we have a device called a ceilometer, that can measure the base of clouds by shooting a laser vertically and measuring the return.   Here is a plot of the last 48h (time in UTC--12:00 is 5 AM).  Around 2-3 AM, it started to pick up a lot of stuff in the lower atmosphere....probably the ash fall.

The visible satellite photo this morning  at 8:30 AM (below) shows dense smoke everywhere, with some high clouds above in places (particularly offshore).  I never seen anything like this around here over the past 30 years.


The Seattle Space Needle cam showed sharply reduced visibility...and no sun.

And unfortunately, our low-level air quality, which held up yesterday, is rapidly declining (see plots of small particles...PM2.5.. at Seattle and Tacoma).

A regional summary of air quality over the Northwest is amazing with extremely poor (purple) and very poor (red) air quality at many sites.   Northern Idaho and SW Oregon/NW CA are in very bad shape.


Now the bad news.   As the surface heats up and vertical mixing increases, more of the smoke will be mixed down.  Air quality will probably decline in western WA.

Why did the bottom drop out last night? Because the easterly flow (from the east) increased in the lower atmosphere as the the thermal trough moved northward.  This is shown by a time-height cross section at Seattle-Tacoma Airport (time increases to the left, in UTC, temperature in red, winds in blue, heights are in pressure, 850 is roughly 5000ft)

This is clearly the worst smoke year in Seattle that anyone can remember.  
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3 PM addition....the latest NASA MODIS visible image.  Smoke everywhere in Washington State.

37 comments:

Ansel said...

We need the Pineapple express and we need it BAD.

Please tell us that rain - real rain- is on the way.

Daniel K said...

Cliff - is there historical data that you can show us that shows exactly how this year compares to past years with regards to smoke from fires? You and others are saying this is the worst you can remember in the past 30 years, but surely there is data out there that proves it is?

Have we seen anything like this since Mt. St. Helens days?

Ellen K said...

Question is, why are we getting an easterly flow, and why hasn't this happened in past years with large fires in eastern WA or B.C.? Bellingham is really smoky too, the air has a yellowish tinge and no sun visible. Weirdest thing I've seen -all this smoke.

Wayne said...

The light in my office today is reminiscent of the Kenny Rogers' Roasters Sign in Seinfeld


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnNaqwny8Yc

Eric Blair said...

Conditions are similar here in Portland, due to the recent fire that erupted on Saturday afternoon in the Gorge. But as bad as the air is right now, it still doesn't compare to the multitude of fires and smoke that descended on the area two summers back. That was unreal.

Colleen said...

Worst air conditions I can remember, and I've lived in Western WA for 40+ years. I'm in north Whatcom County, hiked up at Mount Baker yesterday. The haze worsened through the afternoon and visibility was poor, but still had some views. Today is another story. Everything is completely cloaked in a smoky haze. Tried running this morning and had to abort the mission. It seems like incessant forest fires are the new normal, and I don't believe that has to be the case.

Gpacharlie said...

Very strange indeed. I have lived here nearly 60 years and havent seen a smoky Summer like this one.

Gpacharlie said...

It's smokemageddon.

evie said...

We live in the Lake Goodwin area, surrounded by an acre of trees and wildlife. I dont know whether this has anything to do with the smoke and an almost dusk level of light, but it is eerily quiet. We were in Keizer, Oregon for the eclipse. The yellow almost orange light, and the crazy quiet reminds me very much of the eclipse. Bring on the rain.

Gpacharlie said...

Normally the birds would be much busier than they are right now. That might account for sone of the eerie quiet. I am seeing zero bird activity at my house which is normally a raucous aviary.

Just AboveNOAA said...

Surprisingly big hunks of ash near Sandpoint, maybe sixteen to an eighth of an inch spaced at an inch or so apart. Must be some fairly healthy winds aloft to support such sizeable particles?

I'm so ancient i recall traveling around with dust-masks against Mt St Helens, we aren't at def-con-dust-mask with this event yet? Perhaps the ash hunks are so big it's not an issue?

Unknown said...

Not unprecedented, it's just been a while. Look at the Yacolt burn of 1902, The Dole Valley fire of 1929 or the fires in 1952. I just hope that we don't lose lives like in those fires.

Gary Kaufman said...

Comments about wildlife being just hunkered down is also consistent with what I've seen this morning down here in Olympia. NOTHING is moving much at all. Birds and deer are the two most common critters on our property in the mornings and nothing. Most notably overnight when the deer make a point of stealing apples from the bigger backyard tree and leaving partially eaten. NONE this AM. Our llamas were also quite constrained this morning and spread out in places that I don't usually find them in the mornings....other comments about this being the worst since St. Helens, I would agree. Was in Spokane when she blew and the silence is reminiscent of that day, except for the fact that people are still moving around now.

joe mama said...

This smoke is a bummer.

We were supposed to hit 100 today.

blackandsmart said...

It's seems that after almost three months of dry weather we are so ready for fall and a few good rainstorms! Personally I am glad we do not have to deal with storms like Harvey and Irma around here. Rather have the smoke for a few days.

Ward said...

I also noticed a change in bird activity. Black birds were sitting around looking perplexed. "This is weird".

Ward said...

The smoke and ash might also have a dampening effect on the atmospheric acoustic-- a little like snow, lowering the ambient noise level.

Patrick said...

This morning's sun looked like last night's moon: an unhealthy orange-magenta...

Is weather like this the inspiration for Mordor?

JordanP said...

I added North Bend to that clean air plot of Seattle and Tacoma and it made our numbers look like they were zero. They must be cutting the air up there with a knife.

Ted Stern said...

As stated above, it was worse during the Mt. St. Helens eruptions in 1980.

But what we are getting now is unusual in that no volcano is involved, and it is covering more of the Pacific NW at one time, instead of sweeping through different regions. So unlike 1980, there are few alternatives to hunkering down indoors, other than leaving the NW entirely.

Joseph Ratliff said...

So, we have a "fire season" every summer (it is hot and dry after all) in WA. We have fires each and every season.

The causes of those fires is generally the same (campfires or lightening).

1. Why does this one seem so much different in terms of smoke "spread" into Western WA?

2. Why also does it seem more "smoky days" overall weather-wise this summer?

Maybe it's my memory, of course ... but this season seems awfully pronounced in terms of resulting "effect."

Ron Talmage said...

Does anyone know how the lack of wind this summer compares with others in the past? To be this close to the Pacific with no wind for so long seems very unusual to me.

Stinky_Wizzleteats said...

"The causes of those fires is generally the same (campfires or lightening)."

Don't forget giggling, halfwit teenagers with illegal fireworks. The Columbia River Gorge and the lives of Gorge residents are going to be radically transformed after the Eagle Creek Fire runs it's course.

Hopefully, the chance of t-storms mid-week won't materialize and set everything else on fire. It seems like we've been very lucky, so far, with little lighting in the dry part of the summer.

Dan said...

Joseph, the pervasiveness of fire this summer has mostly to do with the absence (or near absence) of rain since the end of June. We don't get much rain around here in the summer, but we generally get *some.*

I have a Japanese maple tree that has shown severe stress this summer when it never has before. Our dry spell seems to have pushed beyond some threshold to where a fraction of our trees are unable to cope with it.

Alex said...

Can we blame man-made global warming for this?

John K. said...

Ron - what is the correlation between living close to the Pacific and the expectation of wind?

Jack said...

Don't open your windows, even with screens it spreads through, and I'm not kidding!
Close the Windows and run your furnace fan or some other to keep cool.

RLL said...

I understand late 1800s early 1900s this was expected from July to October.

Tommy Matala said...

Cliff, first thank you for the wind orientation reminder for easterly - that's often ambiguous to many of us!

Second, when I saw the ashes outside I could not help but wonder if it was safe to drive my car with the ashes coming down. I drive an infamous BMW E9x M3 that has an air intake that does not fully lock into place over the air filter, so it is inevitable that air particulants will make its way into my engine.

Although, this is / was not molten volcanic magma ash - do you see this ash being a potential hazard to vehicle engines?

Matter said...

I have been in those Seattle area my whole life, 57 years, and I cannot recall a Summer like this one. Did you have a chance to view the blood red moon last night. Dew points were in the mid 60s yesterday. We've had a number of days this summer that were oppressively humid. I was up at 4:30 to catch a 7AM flight. I looked at my weather station before stepping out the door. That first step onto the porch reminded me of my first trip away from home to Houston in August of 83. It was 70 degrees and sultry. Does the smoke give a medium of some sort that that enhances the dew point and humidity? Seems that oduring the other smoke event a couple of weeks ago the dew point was elevated.
I noticed the ash on our cars as I approached them in the dark. On Monday afternoon I noticed material on our cars that I wrote off as crows rooting around in the gutters for water. Many trees around the city are showing signs of stress.
Really remarkable times. Hello Irma!

AnneScott said...

It's because we were stuck under a big ridge for most of the summer with stagnant conditions or an easterly flow so not alot of wind off the ocean.So the lack of wind this summer is because of the lack of any active weather including thunderstorms. Just a stagnant, gross summer all around.

Andrew Lincicome said...

I was really hoping to scroll to the bottom of the comments without someone mentioning GW... the only thing man-made is climate manipulation. Hence directing and intensifying hurricanes. There is a Disney video (for serious) from around fifty years ago that shows how they are able to deter hurricanes from hitting the continent. I am sure their technology is even more sophisticated by now, so please go watch that Disney video and never stop asking questions.

bridog said...

The caption on the pictures should probably read:

"Time: Tuesday, September 5, 2017 (terran)"
"Place: Venus"

Scott Souchock said...

I drove back from being in the Idaho Mountains/Boise National Forest/Atlanta ID yesterday (Tuesday). We had smoke coming up the valley from the Oregon fires so that we could not even see Greylock Mountain. it was miserable driving out through the smoke. And by the time I got to Pendleton coming out of the Blue Mountains it was like the entire west coast was on fire: smoke everywhere.

Bruce Kay said...

Cliff - please write something to define the difference between perturbation and instability. Perhaps then the magnitude of the future might sink in.

Donald Strong said...

Waiting for Cliff on Irma.

BAMCIS said...

Someone's parents need to spend some quality time in jail to contemplate how bestowing common sense upon their stupid offspring is part of being a parent. After their release, then they can contemplate how they can pay for the millions of dollars in damage their stupid kids caused.

This country needs to stop glorifying moronic behavior. We have enough problems via the wrath of nature right now by means of Irma/Harvey. The fires are a catastrophe of negligence, ignorance and are completely preventable.