Smoke from multiple wildfires is expected to smother skies across the West this weekend
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California has seen historic heat waves, raging wildfires and a rare tropical storm that nearly made landfall this week.
Now add a fourth wrinkle to Mother Nature’s fury this week: Air quality issues caused by widespread wildfire smoke. While California isn’t alone in this endeavor, wildfire smoke is spreading across several western states, including the entire Pacific Northwest.
Nearly 170 active fires are burning across the West right now, including massive fires putting out incredible amounts of smoke, like the mosquito fire in the Tahoe National Forecast in northern California, which is so vast that it creates its own weather model.
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Air quality levels have reached dangerous levels near Lake Folsom in California near the fire. Widespread readings near Lake Tahoe show unhealthy to very unhealthy air quality levels.
In the Pacific Northwest, smoke billowed in Seattle and northern parts of western Washington on Friday from several fires started by lightning in the North Cascades.
Air quality is expected to fall into unhealthy categories by the end of Friday through Saturday. The smoke has already triggered air quality alerts in central Washington.
The Cedar Creek and Rum Creek fires are belching smoke in central Oregon as air quality deteriorates in the Eugene area later Friday. Across the border in northern California, the Six Rivers Lightning Complex continues to add smoke to the region as it has so far burned over 40,000 acres, despite being almost content.
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Further east, the Double Creek Fire in eastern Oregon and a few nearby fires have so far burned more than 100,000 acres and are degrading air quality in northeast Oregon and western Idaho. The moose fire near the Idaho-Montana border has also left air quality at unhealthy levels in that region.
But while the smoke has concentrated in relatively narrow corridors this week, an increase in onshore winds along the west is expected to disperse the smoke over a much wider area to the west and northwest.
Forecast maps show nearly all of Washington, Oregon and Idaho covered in smoke on Saturday, as well as the entire northern half of California, Nevada and Utah. Air quality is expected to be the worst Saturday for areas near the Mosquito Fire in California, eastern Oregon, northern Idaho and the Portland/Willamette Valley areas beyond. late Saturday until Sunday.
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And as conditions remain dry and hot, those winds increase the threat of more fires adding to the smoky woes to the west. Fire weather warnings cover large areas of Washington and Oregon through at least Saturday.
A return to westerly breezes early next week will push the smoke away from western Oregon and Washington and instead move it inland to the northwest and west. And the best news is in the long-term forecast, where NOAA indicates conditions likely cooler and wetter than average in the west around mid-September.
Not just the West hit by the smoke
Smoke-hazy skies aren’t just relegated to the northwest. Upper level winds carried smoke across the country into the Upper Midwest.
Even the northeast is not immune, as a plume of higher levels of smoke from western wildfires will add a hazy tint to skies over New York and New England on Saturday, creating may -be surreal orange sunsets.
The smoke will dissipate from the northeast by the end of the weekend.