Washington town ‘might have poorest air quality on the planet’ due to wildfires

Jul 23, 2021, 11:55 AM | Updated: 12:53 pm
Smoke, air quality...
Wildfires continue to burn east of the Cascade. (NWS Spokane, Twitter)
(NWS Spokane, Twitter)

With wildfires continuing to burn across the state, the Methow Valley region in Central Washington is experiencing what the National Weather Service says could be the worst air quality in the entire world.

Smoke from wildfires dodges Puget Sound, ends up in New York

An air quality index (AQI) rating above 300 is considered extremely dangerous for anyone regardless of prior health conditions. Early Friday morning, the NWS reported that the town of Winthrop’s AQI was “off the charts hazardous” at 470, rising to 487 by 9 a.m. At one point, other parts of the Methow region even reported AQI ratings between 600 and 700.

“Methow might have the poorest air quality on the planet this morning,” the NWS said Friday.

Smoke is expected to persist too, as part of what the state-run Washington Smoke Blog calls “a frustrating pattern that appears to be set to continue through the weekend and into next week.” That’s due to active fires near Cedar Creek, Cub Creek, and Delancy.

Typically, “smoke settles into the valley like a blanket” as temperatures drop overnight, with the worst air quality occurring in the morning hours. Those conditions tend to “somewhat” improve as temperatures get warmer in the afternoon.

While smoke from wildfires isn’t uncommon during the summer months, the state’s record-setting late-June heat wave “triggered an early start to our wildfire season,” says former NWS meteorologist Ted Buehner.

West of the Cascades it’s been a different story, thanks in large part to onshore winds having kept the smoke at bay.

“In Western Washington, we have been very fortunate to have cooling winds from the Pacific Ocean and have really kept the wildfire smoke from British Columbia, Eastern Washington, or to our south in Oregon and California away from us,” Buehner described.

That’s keeping the region “blissfully smoke-free” according to the Washington Department of Ecology. But that could change at any point over the next few months, warns Buehner.

“At this point, here we are in late July, and the wildfire season is very likely to extend into September,” he said. “So my concern is at some point, those onshore winds will shift and we may spread smoke into our region from the north, the east, or the south.”

Colville, Okanogan County residents in need of crews for wildfires

If you’re in an area affected by wildfire smoke, Buehner recommends the use of N95 masks, as cloth masks don’t help with smaller particles. He also mentions that you can sprinkle your yard, or even leave out bowls of water to attract the smoke.

To reduce smoke indoors, set your air conditioning (if available) to re-circulate, buy an indoor air filter, or convert your box fan into a filter using these instructions. It’s recommended that you avoid burning candles, using gas stoves, vacuuming, or frying food as well.

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Washington town ‘might have poorest air quality on the planet’ due to wildfires