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Smoky air returns to Spokane, likely to stay until the weekend

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 14, 2017, 7:40 p.m.

After a brief respite from the haze, Spokane’s skies once again turned smoky Thursday afternoon.

Winds out of the northeast are pushing wildfire smoke from Montana back into the Inland Northwest, said Joey Clevinger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Spokane. Those winds aren’t expected to shift until Saturday, meaning Spokane could once again be dealing with several days of smoky skies after setting records last week for choking conditions.

“There’s a light enough wind that it’s not really mixing too well,” Clevinger said.

As of 12:15 p.m., monitors at four sites in Spokane County showed air quality readings in the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” category, which means those with pre-existing breathing issues may be affected by the smoke.

Readings two hours later topped 170 on a Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency scale – which ranks air quality from 0 to 500 – tipping Spokane into the “unhealthy” category for all residents. The Spokane School District declared around the same time that all outdoor student activities would be held indoors this afternoon.

Air quality readings in Idaho also breached the unhealthy category for sensitive groups north of Hayden and in Pinehurst. In Plummer, air quality had reached levels unhealthy for all groups.

Conditions in Spokane dwelled in the “unhealthy for all groups” category throughout the afternoon Thursday. That will likely persist into today, said Stephanie May, a spokeswoman with the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency. But it won’t be the same kind of long-term smokiness that set records in Spokane last week, she said.

“It really all depends on the fire activity and the winds at this point,” said May.

Northeast winds are pushing smoke into the region from several wildfires still burning in Western Montana. Cloud cover over the region is making it difficult to determine just how bad Spokane’s skies could get, he said.

Cooler temperatures and rain forecast in Montana on Friday night could also provide some relief, May said.

Friday’s forecast in Spokane calls for sunny skies and light northeasterly winds, with temperatures topping out in the upper 60s. Winds will shift Saturday and temperatures will rise into the 70s this weekend, with rain forecast to begin Sunday night that could end Spokane’s record dry-spell.


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