The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Fire danger eases some in West, but smothering smoke persists

Smoke has reached San Francisco, while Seattle saw its first rain drops in more than 50 days

A satellite image shows smoke from the San Francisco Bay area through Nevada and northern Utah. (NOAA)
Comment

Friday morning brought raindrops to parts of the Pacific Northwest, a welcome sight after weeks without precipitation. In more good news, red flag warnings for high fire danger were dropped in Northern California and the interior Pacific Northwest after several devastating blazes spread rapidly in previous days.

But even with the easing fire danger due to higher humidity and diminishing winds, a thick veil of smoke from the existing blazes tinged the skies the from the San Francisco Bay area into parts of Nevada and Utah.

By Friday morning, the smoke plume had reached Salt Lake City, where the air quality was the worst among the world’s major cities, according to iqair.com, which tracks pollution levels.

And weather forecast models show the potential for another extremely hot, dry stretch returning to the region by the middle of next week, which could ramp up the fire risk yet again.

Inside Greenville, Calif., the town 'lost' to the Dixie Fire

Relief from the heat but smoke-filled skies

Through the weekend, the West will have a reprieve from the hot, dry and windy conditions that incited the earlier extreme fire behavior, thanks to a cold front that passed Thursday.

Moist onshore flow has followed in the front’s wake. Seattle recorded 0.07 inches of rain Friday morning, ending a 51-day streak without measurable precipitation, tied for its second-longest on record. Portland, Ore., managed 0.01 inches, also ending its own 51-day streak.

But even with conditions far less favorable for fire growth through the weekend, the blazes that erupted in Northern California and southern Oregon are far from contained and continue to release vast amounts of smoke, while extreme drought conditions are deeply entrenched.

Notably, Northern California’s Dixie Fire, about midway between Redding and Reno, Nev., had ballooned to over 430,000 acres as of Friday morning, becoming the third-largest blaze on record in the state. Six of California’s seven biggest fires on record have now occurred since August 2020.

Dixie Fire destroys much of California town as officials warn: ‘You MUST leave now’

The National Interagency Fire Center reported that 107 large fires were burning Friday across 12 states (14 states, including Alaska and Hawaii).

Weather satellite imagery on Friday showed smoke plumes from the Dixie Fire and several others in the broader region covering Northern California, northern Nevada, northern Utah, eastern Oregon, western Washington and much of southern Idaho.

The San Francisco Bay area was among those infiltrated by the smoke.

“With northerly winds aloft, smoke from fires in Siskiyou and Trinity counties will drift southward into the Bay Area Friday,” wrote the National Weather Service office serving the San Francisco Bay area. “Skies could look hazy at points.”

Because most of the smoke was expected to be elevated at least 1,000 above the ground, air quality was not expected to be compromised in the Bay Area.

However, air quality alerts were in effect in parts of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Minnesota due to smoke from wildfires in both the Western United States and Canada.

North of Salt Lake City, the Centerville Police department tweeted its dispatch centers were “getting overwhelmed with calls about smoke," but that “unfortunately, we are unable to change the jet stream.”

Areas seeing smoke now may not see much relief through the weekend due to a rather stagnant weather pattern that will not appreciably disperse it.

As wildfires burn in Canada, an ‘unprecedented’ blanket of smoke hangs over Minnesota

New Northwest heat wave could develop by middle of next week

While the weather will be rather refreshing in Seattle and Portland through the weekend, with highs in the 70s, forecast models agree that a significant heat dome will move over the Pacific Northwest by the middle of the next week.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Seattle is expected to see highs near 90, while Portland could soar to 100. Over inland areas of the Pacific Northwest, the heat could linger into the weekend.

“This has the potential to be a longer duration heat event for us,” the Weather Service in Portland wrote. But it cautioned that the specifics of how hot and for how long are “very much in question.”

As the heat builds next week, the National Interagency Fire Center’s Predictive Services call for gradually increasing fire risk over an expanding area of the West, north of the Desert Southwest.

Loading...