July 30, 2018

Smoke Reaches Western Washington

The smoke is back over western Washington and it is about to get worse, as California wildfire smoke pushes northward over our area.

This morning's sunrise clearly showed a smoke layer, with the reddish glow so familiar from last summer's sunrises and sunsets.

The view of the mountains from Seattle's SpaceNeedle Panocam shows a progressive loss of visibility over the past six days from July 25th to yesterday (all at 5:10 PM).

July 25
July 27
July 29

Most of the of smoke has not been local, but rather came from huge fires over Siberia!   Here is a satellite image from five days ago, showing the smoke moving southwards towards us.  Perhaps Trump can talk to Putin about it.

In a similar image yesterday afternoon, you can just make out the Siberian smoke (particularly north of us), if you look carefully.  There is also one fire in eastern Washington (Chelan Hills) and a few in southwestern B.C. that are contributing a bit as well.  You see all the smoke in California, particularly from the Redding fire?  That is coming our way.

Last nights run of the NOAA HRRR-smoke forecasting system predicted that a significant slug of California smoke will soon reach us.  Here are the smoke forecasts for 7 AM and 5 PM today--substantial smoke is moving northward--particularly bad in Oregon, where sunsets will be very red.

The latest (6:45 AM) visible satellite photo shows the "smoke front" clearly (I put an arrow in to show the leading edge).   Something to look forward to.  Smoke will be worse over eastern WA than over the West.  

Want some good news?  The smoke may knock a degree or two off the high temperatures.

Talking about temperatures, yesterday was a very warm day, getting into the lower 90s from Puget Sound southward and into the 100s in eastern WA.   But perhaps the most unusual aspect were the temperatures in the mountains, where some pass locations got into the upper 80sF and higher (see below, click to expand).  Stampede Pass at 4000 ft maxed out at 88F and mid-90s reached the eastern slopes of the Cascades.  We had very warm air aloft, that approximately tied long-term record values.

Today will be smoky and warm away from the coast, but tomorrow we will start transitioning to cooler, onshore flow.   Relief is only 24 hour away.
Update at 3 PM.  Here is the MODIS visible image around noon...the smoke moving through Washington State is obvious.

And the solar radiation is clearly being reduced based on measurements here at the UW....will cool us down by 1-4F I suspect...


  1. Thanks, Cliff - Better than last summer in terms of smoke, for sure. I can handle just a day of it. I hope the rain I'm seeing on the 10-day forecast doesn't turn out to be just a mirage!

  2. I remember many smoke free summers growing up in the northwest. Now smoke seems to be an annual event lasting weeks. I also can't remember smoke from fires burning in Siberia ever being an issue until this past decade. Heat waves and wildfires in Europe, the sub-arctic, and elsewhere are getting a lot of press this summer. Are we still to believe this is just a natural fluctuation and a result of fire suppression practices or should be be more alarmed?

  3. Unknown. Cliff wil soon reassure us that all that smoke and the fires that makes it is not the result of global warming.

  4. I have to agree with Unknown. Especially the last 3-4 summers.

    I went on a backpack in the Olympic Mountains Friday through Sunday. We were up high on Saturday, and there was a distinct haze in the air. I wanted to believe it was just humidity (there was even a cloud trying unsuccessfully to become a thundershower; it produced only a few drops) but there was a slight reddish quality to the haze- telltale of smoke. Must have been that Siberian smoke?

    Historically we usually got 1 to 3 shots of moisture during the summer. In the 70's, as I recall, the third week of August was usually a wet period. But I have not seen that in some years.

    1. Ansel, I also recall the 70’s (late) having one windy and rainy period that reminded everyone that fall was around the corner. Not lately, though. It seems summer hangs on for much longer nowadays.

  5. Fixed Carbon.... it will be interesting to explore this topic. The fire was initiated by a car. This is not an area of tree die off from beetles or drought. No big wind event. It has warmed the past decades by a few degrees, but it is normally dry during summer. Do you have evidence one way or the other?..cliff

  6. Cliff, I think a few weeks ago you wrote that the fire season this years wasn't shaping up to be as bad as last year. Others in the media (ie Palmer, whoever that is) have predicted a worse year this year and you and many of your readers shot them down referencing various scientific findings on moisture content and the like. It sure seems like this is a bad year for fire. The smoke last year didn't arrive here in the Puget Sound basin until early August, now it's here two weeks sooner. What gives? Thanks,

  7. Charles...this has not been a bad fire year in Washington State so far. Right now, we don't have any big fires. That may change, of course. The smoke has been from Siberia and California...cliff

  8. All I want is this furnace to STOP.

  9. Cliff,
    We have plenty of evidence down here on the fireline in California. After 27 years of being in the business of wildfire I can see with my own eyes the on how each season (which has in fact been extended, on average to 10 months, instead of the 6-month fires season just 10 years ago) brings extended days of above normal temperatures but more importantly extreme fire dangers that span weeks on end (instead of the fluctuations of medium or high)

    We have had climate scientist from National Academy of Sciences, Universities and Climate Centers all come talk to our fire managers and mix and pour over data to everything from fuel moisture archives, urban sprawl, forest management and atmospheric history. All the minds in the room agree the climate has changed (this was for California climate zones)

    We have 747's and other fixed wing air tankers dropping 150,000 gallons a day on a single file. Retardent records breaking every year.

    Many of us think the cause is irrelevant though. When you have trees ripping out of their roots and thunder clapping overhead from a column driven fire event, or when you are fighting fire during Christmas in a fire zone that normally goes quite in the winter, or when your tactics are 70% defensive in initial attack (instead of being offensive and attacking the fire straight on), or when fuel moistures dry to critical levels in April, (instead of June). We see the change on the ground.

    The biggest evidence is staffing. We no longer close winter stations down. This is not because there is more lightning or people living in the urban interface (many areas have actually seen a mass migration out of these zones in the past years). It’s because wildfire can now burn, with haste, especially in the southern zones during winter. I only get to visit Seattle in January. Fire behavior models are being re-calculated for our Fire Behavior Specialists. We are careful not to attribute any one wildfire to global warming. But when you have a pattern…

    By the way. There is a lot of Tree Mortality from the 2013-14 drought in the main fire area of the Carr Fire. The Morning briefings made a point to this.


    The period between 2011 and 2014 was the driest in California history since record-keeping began. I would love for you to come on down and speak to the roundtable and say why climate in not a factor. Oh Seattle sounds cool to me.

  10. I wonder how much our high dewpoints are suppressing local fire ignition. At Paine Field, dewpoints have been running from 55-60 -- definitely high enough to add to the misery index during our heat wave.

  11. We have a beautiful photograph taken by my father when he was hiking in the Goat Rocks wilderness in the 70's of the round, orange sun over the peaks through the deep haze from a July forest fire.

    My grandfather fought fires in Central WA in the 30's. I fought one in the 80's. No one had drip-torches, or heli-torches, or "flare pistols". We had pulaskis and shovels and bulldozers and the sole objective was to build a perimeter and put the fire out.

    That certainly was not a good long term forest health strategy, but I can guarantee you there was less smoke. Way less.

    There have been catastrophic fires in the past (a high school classmate of my grandfather's was killed fighting a forest fire in the 20's). There has been smoke in the past. But before we jump to conclusions about why, can we please first look at the radical shift in how we manage wildland fire today? Our response to it has way more of an impact on what we experience than anything else.

  12. Large parts of the northern hemisphere of this planet are hot and dry. Record high temperatures are being broken every month. Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are rising at an alarming rate. Arctic sea ice is disappearing and the permafrost is melting. Large parts of the Greenland ice sheet are gone. Sea levels are rising. This is not some quirk or anomaly. The effects of Global Warming are happening now. Along with over population, uncontrolled development where it shouldn’t be, the mismanagement of forests and the dumping of plastic in our oceans are all contributing to a bleak unsustainable future world. We need real leadership worldwide to change course in another direction and fast.


  13. "The common thread in California's wildfires: heat like the state has never seen...

    There are many reasons for the grim totals, but experts say one common denominator connects the disastrous fires: California is facing extreme heat, the likes of which it has never seen in the modern historical record...

    The temperatures have just been almost inexorably warmer all the time,” said UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain, and fires burn more intensely if the fuels are extremely dry...

    “The regional temperatures in the western U.S. have increased by 2 degrees since the 1970s,” said Jennifer Balch, director of Earth Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “You’re seeing the effect of climate change.”



  14. Love your blog.
    I don't know how to reach anyone at the UW "Pacific Northwest Environmental Forecasts and Observations" website.
    Currently, the WRF-GFS model at 1,1/3 domain has an issue. The geographical base map jumps to the left (west) at about the 3rd-5th frame in all of the map animations I checked this am. The data, like isobars and wind barbs seem to stay in place (relative to the frame) so the weather events all appear to happen in the next county east of where they would typically.
    I hope you can get this to the probable grad student who can correct the jumping maps.
    Thank you.

  15. Summer did not start until July 10th this year. (Junuary persisted until then.). So we have had a couple weeks of normal average summer weather and everyone is screaming that the sky is falling?

    Not to worry the upcoming cool weather will, be what starts fires in Washington. (Yep thunderstorms)

  16. Organic Farmer, that is not true. June actually averaged slightly above normal in terms of its temperature and May was very much above normal and abnormally dry as well. The weather was not normal this July. This July was one of the warmest Julys on record in Seattle Washington. It is not unusual for cool weather to follow a heatwave. Otherwise the average temperature would be much higher than it is!!!

  17. Organic Farmer, This is not about the sky falling its about the sky containing high levels of carbon dioxide trapping heat in the earths lower atmosphere. The effects of Global Warming is not just here on the west coast it is everywhere on this planet.


  18. Some have commented that they didn't see as much smoke in the 1970's. For another perspective, my grandmother told me that growing up in Seattle at the turn of the century, in the summer it was typical to not be able to see the mountains because of smoke from wildfires.

    So that's another data point.

    Looking at only a few decades such as since the 1970's is really a blink of an eye for a landscape shaped by natural processes.

    The facts do inform us that humans have intervened in natural processes. We do know we've cut down 99% of the old growth forest in the Lower 48, and have had some level of fire supression for more than a century. And yes techniques have evolved.

    Is global warming a contributor to change on the landscape? Possibly but this is difficult to prove.

    So if we want to be guided by reason we have to work with the facts we do know and focus our actions on those things. We can restore habitat and revitalize landscapes. It will take hundreds of years for full restoration, so we shouldn't hesitate to begin.

    Perhaps when we're 100 years into our habitat restoration climate science will be far enough along that we'll know some specifics about how it contributes to micro climates and landscapes.

  19. >The temperatures have just been almost inexorably warmer all the time,” said UCLA climate >scientist Daniel Swain, and fires burn more intensely if the fuels are extremely dry...

    It's hard to value comments like that from folks if they don't address the well documented epidemic of thermometers being near heat islands from human development.


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

How can we predict the climate 50 years from now if we can't forecast the weather next week?

This is a question asked by a commenter, Skeptic517, on my blog yesterday. It is a good question , one that I suspect most climate activist...