November 14, 2018

California Smoke Reaches Washington State

An approaching weather system with strong southerly (from the south) flow in the lower atmosphere has pushed California smoke into Washington State.  To put it more starkly: Washington residents are now breathing smoke particles that originated near Paradise, California.

The arrival of the smoke layer was obvious in high-resolution MODIS visible satellite imagery yesterday.  Here is an image from yesterday (Tuesday) around noon.    There are clouds (the white stuff) but there is also smoke (the grayish veil that extends from offshore of CA into western WA.)  You can see that the smoke did not extend into eastern WA at this time.

 A close up view over western WA really shows the smoke.

Andy Stepniewski was birding yesterday near Chinook Pass and he generously shared a picture looking east (see below):  an elevated smoke layer was very obvious.

The smoke was obvious at ground-based particle sensors around the region.  Here is a plot of the PM2.5 concentrations (small particles that can go deep into your lungs) at North Bend, on the lower western slopes of the central Cascades, and Chehalis, in SW Washington, from Nov. 6th until now.  Note that the Camp Fire started early on November 8th.   A major spike was obvious at North Bend starting mid-day Tuesday and Chehalis is experiencing a major surge of small particles right now.

A good view of the smoke situation is available from the wonderful HRRR SMOKE modeling system.

The near-surface smoke analysis/initialization at 4 AM this morning shows the story, with dense smoke over California extending northward into western Oregon and Washington.  Look closely and you can see the surface winds...southerly along the coast, thus bringing smoke into our region.

The forecast for 5 AM Thursday AM, show a radical improve over western Oregon and Washington, as clean ocean air floods the area.  But central California will still be in the murk.    You have to be worried for the residents of San Francisco, Sacramento, and other locations in northern and central California.   This is probably the worst air quality event in several generations and the health impacts will be substantial.


  1. Lots of stored carbon being released along with industrial scale pollutants from burning construction materials, cars, tires, plastics, and very long list of what gets consumed by fire when 7000 structures burn and un total number of cars.

    And of course the tragedy is the loss of life, both human and animal and all the suffering that comes with that.So sad.

  2. Hiked Mailbox Peak on Monday and Mount Teneriffe on Tuesday. On Monday, excellent visibility with Rainier, Baker, Glacier and the Olympics all sharply visible. Tuesday, only the peaks less than 10 miles away could be seen -- even those not that clearly -- as the layer of smoke obscured everything beyond that. I noticed a severe degradation of air quality between 10AM at the trailhead and 1PM at the summit where a stiff southerly wind blew constantly. With that wind, all of us hikers knew where the smoke aloft was coming from but I was surprised to see no mention of it at all in the NWS forecast discussions yesterday.

    In the North Bend/Snoqualmie area, the air quality was poor nearly down to the surface (the sensor readings confirm this). Did the cross-Cascade winds at the lower elevations push the smoke down from aloft?

  3. It seems as if windstorms have gone extinct. What do you think the chances are of December being more active in the wind department.

  4. "Smoke on the water",
    "Fire in the sky"
    -Deep Purple

  5. Such smoke intrusions from CA in November, in our region, are another definite result of human-caused climate change! Mother Nature's warning us, including even those who deny the obvious, to dramatically cut-back greenhouse gases emissions (worldwide) or suffer more frequent and severe atmospheric impacts.

  6. What happened to our November rain? We desperately need the precipitation that will also clear the air.

  7. Cliff, are these fires part of a feedback loop that further contributes to global climate change?

    Have any scientists collected data as to what the effects of these frequent planetary fires are in the overall CO2 structure of the atmosphere and ocean water absorption?

    Chris H.
    Heli-free North Cascades

  8. Yes, Chris, pretty sad. And as Benjamin says, where are the storms?

    If I remember right, an El Nino will wet California, as the jet stream splits. Let's hope so.

    All this proves- the weather does what it wants- not what we want.

  9. So we have a building El Nino and a blob and are way below rainfall for November of all months. And California isn't getting any of the rain that is supposed to miss us.
    Question have we had a situation where almost all of the North Pacific is warmer than usual with an El Nino on the equator as well and have you done any studies on the ramifications?

    1. We dont have to look too far back. 2015-2016 was a much stronger El Nino and the Blob. The result was a rather mild, wet and stormy winter. Normal snowpack in the mountains.

  10. Chris H

    Information on the effect of boreal forest fires on atmospheric CO2 is at the link below.
    The study also found evidence of increasing frequency of fires.

    "Our model confirms our hypothesis that the recent increase in fire frequency in our study region has caused massive carbon losses to the atmosphere. About 12 percent of the total stored carbon has been lost in the last half century,"

    "In that study, they found that fire frequency in a 2,000-kilometer swath of the Yukon Flats is higher today than at any time in the last 10,000 years."

  11. Anybody else catch Trumps double down today on the fires being the result of California failing to adequately "rake and clean" the forest floors?

    Not exactly the sharpest rake in the shed that guy

  12. Thanks for that link John,

    Very informative

    "subarctic boreal forests like those of the Yukon Flats contain roughly one-third of the Earth's terrestrial carbon stores."

    "The new findings challenge studies that assume that recent fire activity reflects the norm over thousands of years."

    Feedback loop.I see it just about every year now on the east of the north cascades.

    "no use making the same mistakes forever and ever amen,when we're caught in the circle and we can't stop spinning back to the beginning again." Bill Buford

    Chris H.
    Heli-free North Cascades

  13. John Franklin - that is only one example of many that whatever is going on in the lower 48, other forests all over the world are following a similar pattern of increased fire occurrence, size and season, often with no other plausible factors other than changes to the climate, particularly in the northern boreal forests.

    So while California Oregon, Washington, etc fires can be largely attributed to other factors such as "not enough raking", it is also possible that these other factors are actually making the contribution of climate change only "appear" less significant. After all, the influence is inferred, not directly observable. If the observer cannot actually measure differences of attribution, then how exactly does one know how to distribute degrees of influence?

    When uncertainly exists, sub conscious biases and heuristics take over the "weighting" of the evidence.


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