July 05, 2022

A Smokestorm from Fireworks over Western Washington

A cloud of smoke spread over the lowlands of western Washington last night as fireworks returned to the region.

The result was a profound degradation in air quality, reminiscent of the effects of wildfire smoke intrusions of past summers.

Consider the air quality around Seattle from the EPA AirNow network for the central Puget Sound area.   Air quality was quite good yesterday afternoon, but went rapidly downhill around 10 PM, declining to unhealthy levels (red color) by 11 PM.   You know what happened around 10 PM.

The figure below from the PurpleAir air quality network around 10 AM shows that the air quality this morning was still poor for sensitive groups, with some places in the south Sound being unhealthy for all.  Air quality declines towards the east and south, reflecting the northwesterly winds this morning.

The smoke and poor quality resulted from the massive return of fireworks to our region, both official and private.   

 Dr. Peter Benda, watching the fireworks from his home high above Bellevue, suggested to me that official firework smoke was dwarfed by the private shows. His pictures last night and this morning clearly show the smoky miasma trapped at lower elevations.

The smoky haze, abetted by some fog formation, was very evident in the lowlands this morning (see Seattle PanoCam image below around  9AM)

But if you want to see some smoke images that will shock you, check out the SeattlePanoCam images last night.

Here is an image at 10:40 PM....you can even see some of the fireworks!  Quite a smoke plume blowing to the south.... I worry for folks living in the downtown highrises!

And the smoke continued southward, way past downtown.

The good news is that our air quality will improve today, particularly after surface warming enhances vertical mixing.


  1. When I moved to Portland from Chicago ten years ago, my hope was that the insanity of the locals setting off M-80's right outside of my windows for three nights in a row would be a thing of the past. Aside from last year's drought - stricken holiday in which most everyone knew not to set off any fires from incendiaries, this year was a return to the insane. Two nights of fireworks going off at 4AM, even though the city banned them permanently. Why should they worry, since most of the local police have resigned in disgust, and they haven't found anyone stupid enough to take the jobs.

  2. The fireworks were out of control this year with folks setting them off over several days and last night sounded like WW3 from 7pm thru 3am and the smoke was pretty bad. I don't understand how they're supposedly banned yet worse than ever. Ironically the people setting them off are likely the same ones complaining about wildfire smoke in a few weeks.

    1. "... supposedly banned yet worse than ever." It's called "The Iron Law of Prohibition". The tighter the prohibition, the more risk involved in going around it, and the more focus on making that risk profitable enough to be "worth it". For alcoholic Prohibition, the lighter drinks like beer were pushed out by gin, for opiate prohibition Vicodin and oxycodone are pushed out by the more powerful and more lethal fentanyl, and for fireworks in many places the penalty is the same for safe-and-sane vs roman candles and shells.

    2. Completely banning fireworks is a stupid idea people will light more fireworks in rebellion. The intelligent person puts sensible limits on what types of fireworks you can use and when/where you can set them off. Completely banning fireworks is wrong and 2 wrongs don't make a right.

  3. I grew up in California where you couldn't even have a sparkler. The 4th of July's here are amazing I really enjoyed setting off fireworks. If the legislature tries to completely ban fireworks I will ignore the ban. I belive people should be allowed to set off fireworks but there should be big fines if people use fireworks recklessly. However, I can understand limits on the power of a firework. Someone put one of the 1000 gram morters in too big a tube, there was insufficent pressure for it to shoot up and it exploded at about 3 feet, Even though I was 50 feet away from it the pressure wave almost knocked me over and it was sheer luck that no one was hit/badly burned by one of the jets of sparks, a mother had to jump in front of her 2 year old. You shouldn't be able to shoot anything more powerful than 500 grams. I can also understand limits on how late you can shoot fireworks they shouldn't go past midnight. My construction job requires me to wake up at 4am, I got no sleep last night because they were still going off at 2am, working on no sleep is miserable. I don't understand why cities don't move the celebrating to a saturday night, why do we have to set them off before a workday? I'm not too worried about the smoke if it only lasts a day or two in California you get used to weeks of smoke. I'm still mad that the couple who lit gender reveal fireworks on a 100 degree windy day in a dry California forest and started a huge fire didn't go to jail.

    1. Surely you realize someone with your same attitude will ignore a ban on large fireworks, right?

      I'm not a prohibitionist but do really wish people didn't derive pleasure from big booms and sparkly lights. Just because you can have a big backyard fireworks party doesn't mean you should have one.

    2. Selfish, much? "If legistlature tries to completely ban fireworks I will ignore the ban."

      In other words: "Screw everyone else, I've got mine!"

      Are you 12 years old? No wonder society is falling apart, if this is the attitude of a typical adult.

    3. Most of the people I know are opposed to a firework ban and a minority of people forcing their ideas on everyone is even more selfish than ignoring a ban. Can you site any polls showing a majority of people support a fireworks ban? Lets have a public vote on a fireworks ban in the next election and see where people stand. Assuming you are in the majority without poll data or voting results is pretty childish. If the ban was approved by a majority vote of Washington State residents it might actually work.

  4. I doubt if any of this will change until the tribes are forced to stop selling illegal fireworks. Growing up here - I'm 68 now - firecrackers were scarce as hen's teeth, and M-80's, mortar shells, etc., were (mostly) nonexistent. You had to go to Montana to get anything remotely like that. Then the tribes figured out that they could make a hell of a lot of money selling those items. Of course, it's all grossly illegal, but there are not enough cops to stop the flow of explosives pouring off of the reservations. And since the reservations are "sovereign" nations, they can sell as much as they want. Who is going to hold the tribes responsible for all this? No one. It's a blatant flouting of the law (at least the law off the rez), dangerous as hell because of the wildfire threat, and damnably rude. Also, I'm not sure how fireworks are a part of their heritage, let alone their supposed land ethic. But as I said, they're making WAY too much money to stop on their own. It's a crock, and it only gets worse every year.

  5. I took a walk around 9 PM today and It felt oddly humid. I didn't do any strenuous activity but after getting back inside I noticed I was very sweaty. Seemed oddly warm and humid for the time of day, anything going on?


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

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