September 04, 2017

Smoke Front Hits Western Washington

As predicted in my earlier blog, smoke pushed its way across the Cascades into western Washington as the winds reversed at and above crest level....and the transition was dramatic.

Here are a sequence of images from the Seattle Space Needle panocam looking eastward.

 At 6:40 AM, Rainier was still visible, but there is some smoke on the horizon.

 At 9:40 AM, Rainier was gone and smoke was moving in over the eastside.

By 11 AM, smoke was dominating and you can hardly see any clouds above.
By noon, the clouds were gone
At 1 PM, the smoke had thickened into cloud-like densities

The intensity of solar radiation was greatly reduced by the smoke.  Here are measurements at the UW.  

On a clear, smoke-free day the solar radiation has a perfect cosine shape:
Today, the variation is ragged and reduced.

I was very surprised to see the smoke cloud in the local weather radar (Camano Island).  Seeing vertical plumes and pyrocumulus with radar  I had noted before....but the smoke cloud even showed in the radar today (which is in clear air mode).   Here are some images from this AM.  Look over Seattle...see the red/orange stuff move in--that is the plume (it is better in an animation)

And, of course, the smoke plume was evident in the visible satellite imagery.  Look carefully and see if you can trace the smoke over Seattle.

 Finally, the latest high-resolution MODIS imagery.   Can you tell the difference between some high wispy cirrus (white) and the brownish-white smoke?  Portland looks really bad.


  1. It's way worse east of the Cascades. Visibility is down to 1 1/2 miles here in Spokane now. An easterly breeze has picked up in the last few hours,and the smoke is pouring in from the Montana fires.

  2. In 25 years as an air pollution inspector something I never wrapped my head around - the public's concern over breathing wildfire smoke, but not much concern over breathing winter woodstove and open burning smoke. Go figure.

  3. Question, Cliff: how come still lists air quality as "good" for Seattle right now, when we can all see the thick layer of hazy smoke out there? And, ha, good point, Ozoner. My guess is that something about the cold air feels "crisper" and thus cleaner, even if that isn't technically true.

  4. (Wunderground.COM, rather. Must get our URLs correct.)

  5. Is it ever going to rain in the Seattle area again?

    John Gowdy

  6. My mom in Eugene left the door open while she retrieved the paper, and the smoke alarms inside the house went off! Today they had the dubious honor of being the worst air quality in the nation.

  7. Cliff,
    At sunset the sun was filtered to the point it looked as it did during the eclipse with my solar shades on. I had to concentrate to not look at it; reminding myself that smoke did not have the same eye protection.

    Right after sunset, I noticed a strange straight tear in the smokey sky. I was not sure what it was, but thought maybe it was a light affect resulting from both sunset and the smoke. What are your thoughts?


  8. The moon was blood red last night. As of 4am ash is falling from the sky and there is a light dusting of it most notably on my vehicle!

  9. Here in North Seattle, it seems that people are starting to go completely bonkers. I just saw a lady leaving her apartment wearing an insulated, full-length parka. Building windows that were closed during the last heat wave, when it reached the low 60s overnight, are hanging open when it's in the 70s all night. The heat was turned UP 10F in the gym.

    We need an ice storm in a hurry. People have apparently started to lose their mental faculties.

  10. Certainly there's been some wild fires in recent years, but I don't think I've ever experienced so much wide-spread smoke. The density at times even over Seattle has been extensive, and the distance from where much of it came-- from BC, from Oregon is remarkable, even if from mostly Cle Elum smoke of late. For much of the summer, smoke has covered virtually the whole state, and Oregon, as well as much of Idaho, Montana and California. Is the extent of this unprecedented? And, on top of that, for the first time, I've personally seen a couple of brush fires along I-5 within the city.

  11. It's raining ashes here in Shorewood as well! Make it stop, Cliff! :)

  12. There was a fine layer of ash deposited over Vashon this morning.

  13. There's a light dusting of what appears to be ash on our vehicles and other things outside today, and no local fires as far as I can determine (Poulsbo). Is it possible ash is being carried all the way from eastern WA and deposited here?

    Also, how about that nighttime low? 70°F at my house. Crazy.

  14. Is there any explanation as to what is different this year? There are fires in BC and eastern WA/OR every summer, but I've never seen smoke like this in Seattle in the 18 years I've lived here.

  15. Heavy smoke and ash in Issaquah. Visibility is way down. The only time I've seen worse was in Montana in 2015. Is this our future?

  16. In Puyallup we've got ash that is visible on the cars this morning and even in the air. Maybe it is too slow in falling to show up on weather radar? Or too light/small?

  17. Cliff, your criticism of climate reporting is well taken. Can you describe what the "tipping point" event or events might be that would signify a move into a new climate context? If the reporting is erroneous now, what would have occurred for these reports to be more accurate.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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