Under the weather: Smoke and near-record highs possible over the weekend

One of the worst parts of summertime on the West Coast is the possibility of smoke infiltrating the area, contributing to poor air quality and visibility. We’ve been quite blessed in this department this year, with very little issues regarding air quality as a result of smoke. Unfortunately, it’s looking like we won’t escape completely from the smoke this year.

Take a look at the following visible satellite image from Thursday afternoon.

Can you see all the smoke in northern central Washington and in Idaho? You can see the difference in clouds, which is whiter in color, and the smoke, which is grayer.

I spent the holiday weekend in Chelan (the best place ever), and my parents decided to stick around for the rest of the week. They reported to me that the smoke is quite dense, with very poor visibility.

This is what it usually looks like (with some bonus cool clouds):

When looking at the satellite image above, you can tell that the smoke lines right up with where Chelan is. At this time, the air quality there is predominantly in the “hazardous” range of the Air Quality Index (AQI), which is the worst category of the scale. You almost don’t need to look it up—you can probably tell how unhealthy it is just by looking at the picture.

Thankfully, we’re not expecting smoke of that magnitude in our area, but a shift in winds as we enter into the weekend will help direct some of the smoke to us.

High pressure begins to build Friday, which will help to warm us up. Temperatures are expected to jump about 10 degrees warmer on Friday than the previous day, with highs right around 80 degrees. The warming continues even more on Saturday, with highs likely reaching the mid-to-upper 80s—ouch! With those forecasted highs, there is the chance that we break a daily record high for Sept. 10 (the current daily record high is 85 degrees). Along with this warming, offshore winds strengthen. This will contribute to both an increasing fire danger in our area and to increasing smoke/haze with the possibility of decreasing air quality.

As easterly winds increase (i.e., winds from east to west), the warmer (and drier) air from inland begins to filter into Western Washington. As a result, the fire danger increases. In fact, there is a Red Flag Warning in effect for most of Western Washington from Friday through Sunday. Check out the following graphic, courtesy of NWS Seattle.

This means that the threat exists for fires to start in our area. As the graphic states, make sure you are cautious with “fire triggers” over the weekend.

As previously mentioned, the offshore flow also means that smoke from existing fires can make its way to our area. This means skies could be hazy with some lower visibility. We could also see air quality taking a dip at times. At this moment, nothing too crazy is expected in terms of decreasing air quality in our area, but fire/smoke forecasts can change very quickly. Therefore, especially if you or your loved ones are sensitive to smoke, make sure to pay attention to the air quality and limit time outdoors if necessary. A great tool to check current air quality is the Washington Smoke Blog.

The trend of cooler weather is expected to start on Sunday as “nature’s air-conditioning,” or onshore flow, begins. This should also help to start pushing away any smoke that comes our way in the previous couple of days. Highs will likely still be in the mid- to upper 70s, but that’s definitely a lot better than pushing 90. By midweek however, highs may drop all the way down into the upper 60s. Now that’s a cooldown! It may start to finally feel a bit more like fall, even though we’re technically still in astronomical summer.

As we continue through the month of September, the likelihood of warmer temperatures begins to drop more and more. As of September 1st, the average high temperature at KPAE is around 71 degrees. By Oct. 1, this number drops to about 63 degrees. Even though some of the temperatures this weekend may get a bit too hot, try to enjoy the warmer weather (pending air quality, of course). Soon fall should be in full swing along with the cooler temperatures, rainyr weather and colorful leaves—my favorite!

Have a great weekend.

— By Kelsie Nelson

Kelsie Nelson is a meteorologist and recent University of Washington graduate who grew up in Lynnwood and now lives in Kenmore. After writing weather blogs as a KOMO News intern, she discovered a passion for writing about weather. You can learn more in her blog www.wxnoggin.com and you can also follow her on Twitter at @kels_wx3. Questions can be directed to Kelsie at kelsie@myedmondsnews.com.



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