Texas has its floods, Florida has a potentially catastrophic hurricane coming its way, but the Pacific Northwest has its own sign of the apocalypse: wildfires that are turning the sun into a smoke-obscured blood orange and peppering the streets with ash.
“I have been forecasting around here for a long time and have never seen a situation like this,” Cliff Mass, a University of Washington professor of atmospheric sciences, wrote on his blog this morning.
KCPQ meteorologist Rebecca Stevenson suggested that Seattleites should sweep up the ash and put it in baggies “to save and mark the incredibly hot/dry summer of 2017.”
Weather conditions have been conducive to wildfires all summer long, even in the stereotypically rainy Northwest. Western Washington suffered through smoky skies last month, due primarily to fires in British Columbia, but this week is shaping up as even worse.
Mass explained that the “bottom dropped out” on Monday night due to a northward shift in a thermal trough, causing smoke to flow westward from wildfires in Central Washington. Smoke is also drifting northward from wildfires in Oregon.
“I’ve never seen anything like this around here over the past 30 years,” Mass said. “This is clearly the worst smoke year in Seattle that anyone can remember.”
— NWS (@NWS) September 5, 2017
The National Weather Service’s Seattle office said smoke was “mixing down closer to the ground” today, reducing visibility. Stevenson reported visibility as low as 3 miles in Everett, which would have been bad enough to call off last month’s Blue Angels air show completely.
Air quality alerts are in effect for wide swaths of Washington state. Folks with sensitive eyes, respiratory conditions or chronic heart disease should be particularly careful.
And then there’s the ash.
Ash fell like snow flurries this morning on parts of Seattle and other Western Washington communities, sparking flashbacks to the aftermath of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.
The National Weather Service said there were “numerous reports” of ash fall. Here’s a sampling from Twitter:
Ash Tuesday pic.twitter.com/rzFgWY6rKm
— jseattle (@jseattle) September 5, 2017
— Michael Snyder (@guyinjeep16) September 5, 2017
— Brian Mette (@The_MMU) September 5, 2017
— North Bend Weather (@northbendwx) September 5, 2017
As bad as it is in Western Washington, it’s worse in Oregon, where fires are raging:
ash is falling from the sky in portland, oregon. pic.twitter.com/OfC8IrrNRr
— Taylor Hatmaker (@tayhatmaker) September 5, 2017
— KATU News (@KATUNews) September 5, 2017
— The Oregonian (@Oregonian) September 5, 2017
If there’s any silver lining at all to the smoke, it’s that all the particulates in the air may moderate the predicted 90-plus temperatures forecast for today. Conditions are expected to settle down as the week progresses, but with all the talk about climate change’s effects, some are starting to wonder whether wildfire haze will become the “new normal” for Seattle summers.