Smoke degrades air quality to 'very unhealthy' near Seattle's Puget Sound

A man twirls a young child on a waterfront park as downtown Seattle disappears in a smoky haze behind, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018. Poor air quality will be common across parts of the Pacific Northwest this week as winds push smoke from surrounding wildfires into the region, forecasters and regulators said. Air quality alerts are in effect for much of Washington state through Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. The smoke is because of wildfires in British Columbia and the Cascade Mountains, according to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

SEATTLE (KOMO) - Air quality in some areas of Western Washington has degraded from "unhealthy" to "very unhealthy," especially near the Puget sound as wildfire smoke from British Columbia continues to pour into the region.

As of 8 a.m. Monday, monitoring sites in Tacoma, Auburn and Port Angeles reported air quality particulate readings over 200, considered "very unhealthy" by air quality managers, while much of the rest of the Puget Sound region ranged from "unhealthy for sensitive groups" to "unhealthy for all."

Current Air Quality Map. NOTE: Department of Ecology officials say due to high demand, this map may not update frequently. For an even more updated map, go to the Dept. of Ecology air quality page.

The Department of Ecology recommends that when air quality is in the "Very Unhealthy" category that everyone should stay indoors and avoid all strenuous activity. In Renton, officials closed the Henry Moses Aquatics Center Monday and announced there will be no lifeguards at Coulon and Kennydale beach parks.

High pressure in British Columbia is blowing some moderately strong north/northeast winds out from the Fraser River Valley which is helping mix up the air quality a bit in parts of the North Sound, but also increasing the fire danger. A Red Flag Warning is in effect for Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish Counties, the North Coast and areas along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The warning means any wildfires that become triggered could spread rapidly.

Elsewhere those north/northeast winds are only making matters worse, tapping into a massive plume of smoke from hundreds of wildfires burning in British Columbia and blowing it our way. It's also creating a hotter pattern with temperatures expected to reach well into the 80s amid the smoke, making for uncomfortable homes where no air conditioning means deciding between relief from the heat or relief from the smoke.

Low visibility has also created delays at Sea-Tac Airport where air traffic management controls remain in effect.

It's considerably worse in Eastern Washington where several areas are reporting downright hazardous air quality readings. Spokane was in the hazardous air quality category with particulate readings around 400. Strong winds gusting to 20-35 mph are no help over there, and only exacerbating the wildfire danger there as well with Red Flag Warnings across much of central and eastern Washington.

Relief is on the way! Eventually...

This hot and smoky weather pattern is expected to continue into Wednesday, with air quality readings around Western Washington expected to remain in unhealthy categories until then. It's not until Wednesday night that an expected marine push will clear out the smoke.

BUT! Long range forecasts are favorable for remaining in cleaner air through the end of the week and the weekend. Stronger marine breezes with will blow in the ocean air and knock temperatures down to the 70s on Thursday and Friday with a more traditional Seattle summer weather pattern of morning clouds and afternoon sun -- yes, actual yellow-tinged sunshine instead of the spooky orange version.

It gets even better over the weekend as a trough of low pressure is expected to perhaps bring some scattered showers on Sunday to really clean things up. Highs by then might only reach the upper 60s.

Long range forecasts keep conditions on the pleasant and smoke-free side into next week. I don't want to declare summer over just yet -- there are a few hints of warming again heading toward Labor Day, but it looks like for those yearning for a cooler, cleaner weather pattern there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it's obscured by haze at the moment.

Meanwhile, firefighters in British Columbia are making some progress battling the hundreds of wildfires creating all the smoke. The BC Wildfire Service tells the Associated Press about 550 fires are burning in the province, but there weren't many lightning strikes over the weekend and that gave crews a chance to concentrate on some of the 54 blazes currently threatening people or property.


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