Why the Smoke Situation Isn’t Improving and Situation Update

 To understand the current situation, it helps to stand back and look at the essential meteorology.  It explains quite a bit of why we are stuck in the current unpleasant situation.

View from Mathew’s Beach Park in Seattle on Monday.  Where does the sky begin?

It illustrate, let me show you the weather maps at around 3000 ft (925Pa) that present the winds and the height/pressure distributions at that level, as well as temperature.

At 8 PM Monday, there is a strong low pressure area offshore.  That produces southerly winds along the coast that brings up smoke from the south.  Over western WA and OR there are very small pressure differences and light winds, and with low pressure offshore shore, some of the low-level flow is offshore, bringing in smoke from the interior.   Light winds and offshore flow help keep the smoke in place.

5 PM Wednesday.  Pretty much the same thing.  We are stuck in air-quality hell.

But it is even a bit worse than that.  As the low moves a bit closer tonight, a surge of smoke will push into western Washington (see HRRRsmoke model forecast map at 2 AM Tuesday below).  And keep in mind that HRRR underplays smoke concentrations at low levels.

So I am not optimistic for improvement either today or Wednesday.  With smoke production (at a lower level) by the continuing fires, a “stuck” weather pattern, and smoke trapped in a relatively stable lower atmosphere, things just can’t improve rapidly.

The current air quality situation is shown below (note the greens are bad sensors). Poor air quality (reds, purples and browns) remain over much of the region, and the smoke is still extremely bad in the northern Willamette Valley.  According to my colleague Professor Dan Jaffe of UW Bothell, there is the worst air quality period in the 20-year record over Puget Sound.

Look closely and you can see some improvement on the Oregon coast, but not on the Washington coast.

I have been examining the forecast of other air quality models as well and the results are consistent with continued poor air quality for the next two days. For example, the WSU AIRPACT modeling system modeling system, to which my group contributes the atmospheric models, shows considerable smoke later this morning (11 AM today).

WSU AIRPACT Small Particle Forecast for 11AM Today

The Seattle Times

Hours after I release my blog on the origins of the poor smoke forecasts, the Seattle Times did a story on the poor smoke forecasts and unfortunately got a lot of it wrong. The story claimed that one reason the forecast was wrong is that the models did not get the large-scale situation right (e.g., the fronts).  This is not correct and easily disproved.  Second, the article claims the model did not consider the layer of smoke.  This is also wrong; many of smoke effects (e.g. on radiation) are included in the HRRRSmoke model that many of us are viewing. And the key radiative effects of smoke are simulated in UW model simulations.

Seattle Times articles on weather and climate have been wrong or inaccurate time and time again (you will find me mentioning this in many blogs).  Totally frustrating that the citizens of the region are being so substantially misinformed.  They pretty much stopped talking to me after I criticized their story on CO2 increases causing oysters in factory facilities to die.   Their stories on climate change in the region have been particularly inaccurate.

There is sometimes a very heavy price to pay for honestly and objectively talking about some environmental issues (and other issues as well).  In a free society, diversity of viewpoints should be celebrated and honored, not suppressed.  Citizens can only make good decisions if they have objective information. Fortunately, I have this blog and can communicate directly to all of you, allowing YOU to evaluate the fidelity and value of the information I am trying to communicate.   That is why I give you my chain of logic and show you so many figures/data. 


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