August 12, 2021

A Smoke Storm is About to Hit Washington State

Western Washington has escaped serious wildfire smoke at the surface, but that is about to change tonight and tomorrow.

A serious smoke storm will invade western and eastern Washington, and those that are vulnerable should prepare.

The smoke layer was evident from Crystal Mountain this morning

The visible satellite imagery this morning shows smoke over eastern Washington and a band of smoke extending over western Washington (see below)


Over the west side, this smoke is currently aloft, while serious smoke is surfacing over eastern Washington.  Reflecting this situation, air quality shown in the AIRNOW plot (below) is generally good (green dots) west of the Cascade crest (except in the Fraser River Valley).  But eastern Washington and BC have many locations with poor and even unhealthy (red and purple) conditions.  

Ironically, the smoke aloft is greatly reducing solar radiation reaching the surface and will take the edge off the heat today.  Still quite hot, but it would have been several degrees warmer without the smoke aloft.  For example, it is COOLER today at SeaTac than yesterday.....that is the smoke effect.


But things are about change in a major way and a large amount of smoke is about to invade western Washington.  The air quality will decline greatly.

There are still a substantial number of large wildfires in southern British Columbia and their smoke has been kept away by the general eastward winds from off the Pacific.

But that is going to change tonight as northerly and northeasterly flow strengthens over the region, pushing dense smoke toward Washington State...and particularly western Washington.   

To illustrate what will happen, let me show you the near-surface smoke predicted by the NOAA HRRR model.

The situation at 7AM this morning indicates clean air over western WA and NW Oregon, but smoky air from BC and eastern WA fires evident to the east (red colors).


But by 5 PM today serious smoke has surfaced in portions of western Oregon and Washington, and dense smoke (purple colors) is moving our way.


And by 5 AM tomorrow (Friday) serious smoke will be over the Cascades and into Northwest Washington, from Tacoma northward.  Bellingham looks particularly bad.


At 5 PM tomorrow unhealthy surface air will extend from Portland to Vancouver--better along the coast. You will probably smell it.


Fortunately, the smoke storm in western WA should end on Saturday, as cleaner air moves in off the ocean.  But still bad for our friends in eastern Washington.


I have given a lot of study to airflow and smoke in our region.  The "secret" of getting smoke to the surface in densely populated western Washington is to have fires in BC and northeasterly flow aloft.   Air moving down the western slopes of the Cascades allows higher-level smoke to be pushed to near sea level.

Dealing With the Smoke

If you are vulnerable/sensitive to smoke, there are several things you can do.

If you have N95 filters because of the COVID situation, use them.  They are also highly effective in removing wildfire smoke particles. Cloth masks will be of marginal benefit.

If you are lucky enough to have an air conditioning system with a decent air filter, use it.  Good filters are MERV 13 or FPR 10  or better.

If you have central heating with a good air filter, turn the fan on and close the windows.

You can create an excellent air filter system by attaching a box fan to a good air filter (see image).  My colleagues at the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency have created an excellent video on how to do this.


Of course, there are a number of excellent commercial portable air filtration systems you can purchase.

Finally, several municipalities, such as Seattle, have designed public buildings with good air filtration.
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Announcements:  

I will be doing a special online session with my Patreon supporters on Saturday at 10 AM.

Several of you have asked whether I will be doing a blog on the latest UN IPCC Climate Assessment.  The answer is yes.  In fact, the blog is written, but I wanted to give priority to the heatwave and smoke situation.

31 comments:

  1. Thanks, Cliff. Went out to the car this morning and found it covered with ash particles.

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  2. Can smell it already on hood canal, easily visible smoke layer at about 2500 feet and higher this morning around 8 but no discernable odor at that time.
    It's definitely lowering as at about 100' elevation I can smell it now.

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  3. sunrise today 8/12 , the sun was quite orange/red

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  4. Smoke on the ground @ 1,000 ft elevation 6 miles east of Washougal, WA. 3 PM 8/11/21. Not lookn good.

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  5. Smoke on the ground @ 1,000 ft elevation 6 miles east of Washougal, WA. 3 PM 8/12/21. Not lookn good.

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  6. We've had horrible air quality in the Rogue Valley of southern Oregon all week. Nearby hills are difficult to see. It's unpleasant to be outside.

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  7. Two words…Nor Again

    If this happens in September I’m on the next flight out of here!

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  8. could smell the smoke this morning in Bellingham, was rather low, above was blue sky. Smell gone now, but still think there is some smoke about, have had a headache all day.

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  9. WAQA score for Seattle is 130 right now. Let's hope we stay under 250...

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  10. looks like the smoke forecasts for today and tomorrow underestimated the amount we'd actually be seeing. it's just hit straight-up 'UNHEALTHY' in North Seattle.

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  11. It's definitely arrived hmin the South Sound, with my PurpleAir sensor reading PM2.5 AQI in the 160s while continuing to climb. Hopefully once it clears out it stays gone.

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  12. Air quality is not stable in Carson either. The air quality report is 154. Can't even see the mountain just down the road from my stairs..

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  13. Everyone knows that watering the trees especially at night will greatly reduce smoke, don't you all? True it draws the smoke to them but as long as the waters flowing it will exchange it for clean air or better, water.

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  14. Wednesday working outside in Mount Vernon sealing a long asphalt driveway the heat felt a bit hotter than on Thursday. Perhaps it was the smoke, when I sat down to rehydrate I noticed smoke flakes settling on my jeans.

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  15. Such a massive changed in smoke forecast. Just 2 or 3 days ago the prediction was for an AQI in the 50's for thursday and friday.

    Also, this blod headline seems very sensationalized. What constitutes the use of the word 'storm' in relation to smoke?

    The smoke and AQI we are going to experience over the next 48 hours will be far less (in both harmful AQI and duration) than what we had in any of the previous 3 years...by a lot.

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  16. any thoughts beyond saturday? specifically in the alpine lakes wilderness/enchantments zone? doing some research looking at: https://rapidrefresh.noaa.gov/hrrr/HRRRsmoke/Welcome.cgi?dsKey=hrrr_ncep_smoke_jet&domain=t1&run_time=13+Aug+2021+-+01Z - near surface, 1000ft, 6000ft (Enchantments Zone is ~4500ft)...should I be concerned?

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  17. It hit 100F at Bellingham’s airport today, breaking the all time record of 99 set this June. The precious August record was 94.

    You said in your last post that this would be a typical heatwave. Well, it’s not...

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    Replies
    1. Sam...something very unusual happened in a highly localized way in Bellingham. Check my new blog. For most of the rest of the region the temperatures were not that extreme...cliff

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  18. I noticed the smoke in the air in Redmond and also that it was not as hot as was forecasted. This means tomorrow would not be the heat wave that was forecasted but a smoke wave. Stay safe, try to stay indoors.

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  19. Our family have a lot of personal experience with fire smoke in the last 5 years. We do not do any outdoor activity or optional outdoor time when the 2.5 micron AQI is over 75. Purple Air is a great source of this data
    https://www.purpleair.com/map?opt=1/mAQI/a10/cC0#11/47.7406/-122.0816

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  20. Interestingly, most forecasts I have seen are not accounting for the cooling effect of the smoke. In Tri-Cities, it was ~6F cooler yesterday than the forecast, consistent with the HRRR-Smoke forecast and the thick column of smoke overhead, but forecasts for today again have yet to adjust down.

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  21. I'm up the washougal river and was wondering why it was so hazy and smoky looking.

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  22. We are presently in Eugene. Smoke is definitely over the valley. Drivers on I-5 wore masks. Our morning coffee was from a drive up and will be closing early PM due to the conditions. We will be on the coast later today.

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  23. In how many recent summers have we had a "smoke event" in Western Washington?
    I think it's the past 4 out of 5 summers now.
    Curious when we last had that happen?

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    1. Not sure of your question. Going back 100 years or more, the region was very smoky every summer. Then we suppressed pretty much all wildfires and messes up our eastside forests. Now we are suppressing less and have to deal with an extremely flammable environment....plus more humans starting firees.

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    2. Do you have the statistics going 100 years in the past about what started the fires and how many fires we had each year? And how bad the smoke was each year to show a correlation?

      Hvae you done any correlation to see if the bad fire years coincide with the hotter than normal temps for the summer. Or any heat related record being broken...or even less than normal range in certain scenarios like lack of rain, etc.?

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    3. So with the above in mind the "new normal" should be to expect smoke events in the summer.

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  24. As bad as the smoke can get, there's another side to it, and that's to be thankful that the fires aren't lapping at your door. Last September two enormous fires got within ten minutes from my home in Portland - not on the outskirts, not in the suburbs, but right at the southern border of the city, along the banks of the Williamette. We were under a level 2 evacuation order for days on end, and the firefighters abandoned their efforts at containment within days of the initial progress of the fires. The air quality was among the worst in the entire world for over a week, I couldn't even see outside my window, and N95 masks only helped if you had to go outside for an hour or two. Many people fared much worse than myself, with some losing not only their homes and businesses but their lives as well.

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  25. It's Friday 8/13 and definitely noticed the redder sun than I did yesterday in Tacoma. Earlier in the week, it was more or less normal, other than the natural tinting of late summer with the sun now a bit lower in the sky and with all the dust kicking up from being quite dry.

    Hope it never gets as bad as it did last fall when much of the west coast was on fire.

    Glad I took the dog for a walk this morning before it gets any worse, though now she's got access to my backyard as the back door is open.

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  26. This smoke storm points out the inability of the ASOS observation system to accurately measure smoke. I’m on the ground in smoky Yakima with an estimated two mile visibility and an indefinite ceiling under a sky overcast with smoke. However, the automated ASOS is reporting a surface visibility of 2.50 miles and clear skies. This failure to correctly measure wildfire smoke seems to be system wide.

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  27. anyone know why the purpleair.com sensors usually register significantly higher PM2.5 concentration than the airnow.gov sensors?

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

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