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Smoke moves in across Puget Sound

Smoke along the Seattle skyline in September 2020. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

While the Puget Sound region has managed to dodge the worst of the fallout from wildfires across Washington this summer, smoke finally arrived on Friday and is here to stay through the weekend.

State shatters records amid ‘early, alarming’ start to wildfire season

Up until now, onshore winds have kept smoke out of Western Washington, with Central and Eastern Washington bearing the brunt of the state’s recent fires. At one point early last week, even New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Toronto had more smoke from West Coast wildfires in their skies than any city west of the Cascades.

“Western Washington has mostly lucked out so far this year when it comes to wildfire smoke,” the state-run Washington Smoke Blog said in its most recent update. “That steady flow of clean air can’t hold up all summer, and indeed it seems to be changing on Friday, Saturday, and into Sunday.”

That will be due to a “ripple in pressure patterns,” sending smoke from Northern California and Oregon fires straight through Western Washington. Additional smoke will be pushed into the region from Eastern Washington as well.

In terms of air quality, this will bring what forecasters describe as “a classic upstairs-downstairs situation.” That means that while smoke will still be arriving across the Puget Sound region, it will be passing through with enough height (roughly a mile and a quarter) to only lightly impact air quality in the lowlands.

Colville, Okanogan County residents in need of crews for wildfires

The impact of smoke is measured by something known as the Air Quality Index (AQI), broken down into six categories: good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups, unhealthy, very unhealthy, and hazardous. The Puget Sound region’s “upstairs-downstairs” situation this weekend is expected to produce an AQI rating somewhere between “good” and “moderate.” Or as forecasters put it:

“The Puget Sound should continue to have good to moderate air quality downstairs, even though the upstairs will look hazy,” the Washington Smoke Blog described.

Eastern Washington

In the Tri-Cities, air quality was at a level considered unhealthy for many people Saturday morning as smoke drifted in from fires burning in the Blue Mountains.

The Benton Clean Air Agency has issued an air quality alert for the next several days.

At the air monitoring station at Mesa in Franklin County, the air quality was rated as unhealthy for all people.

Meanwhile, the Washington Department of Ecology extended an Air Quality Alert to Okanogan, Ferry, and Stevens counties.

Spokane was covered with gray smoke on Saturday morning and the temperature was forecast to reach 103 degrees.

Spokane has already seen five days with a high temperature of 100 degrees or more this year. The most ever in one year was six and that record was set back in 1928. That record will likely be tied on Saturday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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