December 09, 2017

Los Angeles Smoke Reaches the Northwest

We just can't win at  this.  Last summer, western Washington was hit by smoke from British Columbia, then Oregon, and finally our own Cascade mountains.   The smokiest summer in a half-century.

And now the most amazing thing has happened.  Smoke from unusually late wildfires over southern California  have reached our region, producing reduced visibility and degraded air quality.  Really stunning.

The smoky haze was evident in this shot of Mt. Rainier by Peter Benda

Or in an image from Seattle's Space Needle Panocam:

The sun this afternoon had that yellow/orange cast reminiscent of last summer's wildfire season.

But what will really knock your socks off are the satellite images from the NASA MODIS imager.  Here is the visible image taken around noon.  Can you see the smoky stuff moving northward from offshore of California right into us?  That is Los Angeles smoke. 

Here is a closer view.  REALLY dense smoke from the Olympic Peninsula southward into NW Oregon.

Now if you want some proof of the origin of the fires, here is the vertically integrated smoke product from the NOAA/NWS HRRR Smoke model for 1 PM today.   From La Land straight to us.

And now the great irony.

Most of the LA pollution is aloft and can't reach the surface here because of the very strong inversion above us.  Usually inversions keep pollution emitted near the surface in the lower atmosphere and make things worse.  In this case, it is protecting us.  Very strange.

The strong inversion also made for some weird skiing.  Consider Alpental in Snoqualmie Pass (the NW Avalanche Center observations shown below). At 2 PM today (1400 PST) it was 25F at the base (3100 ft) and 22F at 4350 ft, but 50F at 5470 ft, at the top of the run.  Can you imagine?  Going from 50F to the low 20s in a run of few minutes?


  1. Am wondering to what degree the soot in that smoke will accelerate the melting of snow and ice at this and far northern latitudes, or if it will have any effect (given the time of year, its most likely to be buried by more snow).

  2. Thank you Cliff. Very interesting! Wildfire smoke all the way from LA! I saw a hazy sky during my evening walk tonight. Very few stars. Now it all makes sense

  3. I can add to the weird skiing aspect, I was up there yesterday. The transition between the cool and warm air was incredibly abrupt. I would estimate the transition took less than 50 vertical feet. While skiing down the transition felt like opening the freezer door on a warm day, shocking. I have never felt such an abrupt transition between layers in an inversion before. It was t-shirt weather in the sun on the ridges and downright chilly and wintery below the inversion layer.

  4. Pretty certain, we need to get use to this.....

  5. You ought to see the smoke in Arroyo Grande, my new home. Now I know why my house has a clay tile roof.

  6. Hey Cliff -- seems like for the last week or two the evening temperature forecasts in Bellingham have been consistently 4-8 degrees warmer than reality. Tonight is the same story: predicted 39 or 39, actual ~35 -- most nights it's been even more extreme of an error. Anything to this?


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