Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Why the Smoke Situation Isn't Improving and Situation Update

 To understand the current situation, it helps to stand back and look at the essential meteorology.  It explains quite a bit of why we are stuck in the current unpleasant situation.

View from Mathew's Beach Park in Seattle on Monday.  Where does the sky begin?

It illustrate, let me show you the weather maps at around 3000 ft (925Pa) that present the winds and the height/pressure distributions at that level, as well as temperature.

At 8 PM Monday, there is a strong low pressure area offshore.  That produces southerly winds along the coast that brings up smoke from the south.  Over western WA and OR there are very small pressure differences and light winds, and with low pressure offshore shore, some of the low-level flow is offshore, bringing in smoke from the interior.   Light winds and offshore flow help keep the smoke in place.


5 PM Wednesday.  Pretty much the same thing.  We are stuck in air-quality hell.


But it is even a bit worse than that.  As the low moves a bit closer tonight, a surge of smoke will push into western Washington (see HRRRsmoke model forecast map at 2 AM Tuesday below).  And keep in mind that HRRR underplays smoke concentrations at low levels.


So I am not optimistic for improvement either today or Wednesday.  With smoke production (at a lower level) by the continuing fires, a "stuck" weather pattern, and smoke trapped in a relatively stable lower atmosphere, things just can't improve rapidly.

The current air quality situation is shown below (note the greens are bad sensors). Poor air quality (reds, purples and browns) remain over much of the region, and the smoke is still extremely bad in the northern Willamette Valley.  According to my colleague Professor Dan Jaffe of UW Bothell, there is the worst air quality period in the 20-year record over Puget Sound.

Look closely and you can see some improvement on the Oregon coast, but not on the Washington coast.


I have been examining the forecast of other air quality models as well and the results are consistent with continued poor air quality for the next two days. For example, the WSU AIRPACT modeling system modeling system, to which my group contributes the atmospheric models, shows considerable smoke later this morning (11 AM today).

WSU AIRPACT Small Particle Forecast for 11AM Today

The Seattle Times

Hours after I release my blog on the origins of the poor smoke forecasts, the Seattle Times did a story on the poor smoke forecasts and unfortunately got a lot of it wrong. The story claimed that one reason the forecast was wrong is that the models did not get the large-scale situation right (e.g., the fronts).  This is not correct and easily disproved.  Second, the article claims the model did not consider the layer of smoke.  This is also wrong; many of smoke effects (e.g. on radiation) are included in the HRRRSmoke model that many of us are viewing. And the key radiative effects of smoke are simulated in UW model simulations.


Seattle Times articles on weather and climate have been wrong or inaccurate time and time again (you will find me mentioning this in many blogs).  Totally frustrating that the citizens of the region are being so substantially misinformed.  They pretty much stopped talking to me after I criticized their story on CO2 increases causing oysters in factory facilities to die.   Their stories on climate change in the region have been particularly inaccurate.

There is sometimes a very heavy price to pay for honestly and objectively talking about some environmental issues (and other issues as well).  In a free society, diversity of viewpoints should be celebrated and honored, not suppressed.  Citizens can only make good decisions if they have objective information. Fortunately, I have this blog and can communicate directly to all of you, allowing YOU to evaluate the fidelity and value of the information I am trying to communicate.   That is why I give you my chain of logic and show you so many figures/data. 

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23 comments:

  1. Cliff, the sensors that show green are not bad. If you want a clear map for your blog without the green sensors, just select PM-25 on the top tab and it will remove those sensors from the image. The reason those sensors are green is that they are not PM-25 sensors and you have "All" selected for your sensors.

    Here is Ranil Dhammapala's explanation from the WASmoke.blogspot.com:
    An aside: I've received questions from folks who're wondering why Ecology's map shows Good air quality in some areas, when everything else nearby is crummy. Thats because the default view of the map shows all pollutants being monitored, not just fine particle pollution (PM2.5, aka "smoke"). Ozone and sulfur dioxide levels are low, so sites monitoring just these pollutants show up as Good. Click on the "PM2.5" tab to filter these out. (Posted by Ranil Dhammapala- WA Ecology at 9/13/2020 12:10:00 PM)

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  2. Thanks Cliff. My information on many topics now comes directly from experts like you rather than journalists. I cancelled my Seattle Times subscription long ago and find this mainstream media-free existence to be much calmer and healthier.

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  3. Cliff- can I get above this smoke by heading to the cascades? I need some relief

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  4. Appreciate the update! Long time reader and listener.

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  5. Do you feel at all optimistic about the rain in the forecast?

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  6. Hey Cliff, it's still too dark out to know for certain, but I think Tacoma got a bit of rain last night. When went to put food scraps into the scrap container on my deck, which is covered and noted it'd been sprinkling as I saw spots on my deck where the roof ends and sure enough, reaching out beyond the roof, I felt droplets of water.

    When I came awake at 6AM this morning, the light across the street from me showed my car was wet, street had been wet too, so we got some measure of rain, doubt it was much though but certainly enough to get the street wet that's for sure. It's now just beginning to become light out at 6:34AM so still too dark to know what, if any improvement.

    Also, around 6:15-6:30 last evening, noted 3, or 4 wisps of white clouds down below the upper most smoke layers and I can tell it's clouds as they were white, whilst the smoke was not so a sign?

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  7. Thanks for the detailed explanation. As to the green sensors, I think some are measuring ozone but not PM2.5.

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  8. I'm sorry if I missed an explanation ... why are the Enumclaw Mud Mountain and Issaquah sensors reading such good air quality? Mud Mountain might be above the murk though I doubt it. Issaquah certainly is not above the murk. If they're accurate I'm heading to Enumclaw today, but don't tell anyone.

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  9. Ugh- Seattle times. Definitely not the place to get objective info. Thanks for doing this!

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  10. Cliff, I am continuing to really enjoy the thorough analysis and objectivity. Keep up the good work. I know many in the Puget Sound are thankful for fhe direct line into your viewpoints on these topics. Also, it was great to hear the new Podcast, different venue and format but I think for the better! You can go more in depth and we get more discussion vs being limited by a small radio spot. Keep it up!

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  11. So when do you see any real relief coming? And how can there be any real relief as long as huge fires are burning so close, with our area being at the mercy of the southerly winds?

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  12. Um, a little typo - should be 925hPa not 925Pa in second paragraph :-). Thanks for all the analysis through all this!

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  14. Hi Cliff, thanks for sticking your neck out and giving your opinion and analysis. Truth Matters and it's actually the title of a new song by Neil Fox. And when does it look like I can go bike riding again?

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  15. Anything regarding the satellite imagery? I’d think that would be helpful.

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  16. Thank you for spreading correct information. I get so tired of the media screaming "science" but then they don't actually practice "science." Just give me the facts and let me figure out my own opinion, not someone's agenda.

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  17. Thanks for making regular posts on the extremely poor air quality. I have a half mask with hepa filters from years of asbestos abatement and can stay out all day if I want to. They need to be fit tested; there is information on line about that.

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  18. "There is sometimes a very heavy price to pay for honestly and objectively talking about..." -anything.

    Thank you for your trains of thoughts.

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  19. Thanks for the frequent updates about this - you're always my go to for good weather analysis, not the Seattle Times.

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  20. Thank you, Cliff, for being the voice of reason in a world of one sided media bias. This election season has been particularly challenging.

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  21. We appreciate and respect where you're coming from, your objectivity and honesty.

    Question! (kind of a mix of questions) Most of us had a little rain in the last 24 hrs. How much improvement did that make in air quality? If fires are still burning, my guess is the amount of continuing in-coming smoke is difficult to model. The smoke model inputs use fire locations and sizes, and also location of "smoke cloud(s)"? Is the radar sensitive enough to detect density and the depth and altitude of the "smoke cloud"? No doubt, there must be many plumes. The conditions are miserable, but fascinating from an observation standpoint.

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  22. What about for Friday and the weekend?

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