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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Take smoky skies seriously, stay indoors

Stay indoors.

Seriously, the entire Northwest is blanketed with smoke, and it’s simply not safe to breath it in.

This misery is brought about by a dry summer and higher-than-normal temperatures. The last recorded rain in Spokane was on June 28, according to the National Weather Service. Tuesday was the 69th straight rainless day, which is only four days shy of the record dry spell set 100 years ago. (Trace amounts have fallen, but not enough to be measured.)

Extreme weather seems to be the norm these days, with Hurricane Irma barreling toward Puerto Rico and then, perhaps, Florida. The city of Houston, of course, is still dealing with its third “500-year flood” in the past three years, rendering that measurement meaningless.

Before Spokane went without measurable rain in July and August, it experienced its second-wettest March on record. April was inordinately wet, too. That rainy spell was preceded by a series of winter storms that dumped more snow than usual, all of which left the city with horrendous road conditions. Maintenance crews have been playing catch-up ever since.

Wet springs and hot, dry summers provide the perfect setting for wildfires, and the Northwest is ablaze with significant fires in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Canada and Northern California.

It’s raining ash in Portland, as a massive forest fire has engulfed the Columbia River Gorge and impeded travel on Interstate 84. Glacier National Park is also on fire, with the historic Sperry Chalet burning down and wildfires threatening the beloved Lake McDonald Lodge.

Extreme weather and more wildfires were predicted in the 2014 National Climate Assessment, an intergovernmental agency research effort authorized by the Global Change Research Act of 1990 and overseen by the National Academy of Sciences.

Unfortunately, burning eyes from smoky skies may become more commonplace. It was only two years ago that air quality measures were also this bad.

The people at greatest risk are children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems, not to mention those who have active outdoor jobs. But air quality index readings are so high, everyone is at risk, according to the Spokane Regional Health District.

So school districts have wisely canceled sporting events and other outside activities.

The National Climate Assessment predicted the effects of Northwest wildfire on human health, noting: “Future climate change is projected to increase wildfire risks and associated emissions, with harmful impacts on health.”

The smoke itself “contains particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and various volatile organic compounds (which are ozone precursors) and can significantly reduce air quality, both locally and in areas downwind of fires,” the report states.

So stay inside, if you can. The smoke is expected to linger and may even get worse, depending on which way the wind blows.

And if climate scientists are right about future health impacts, this may become a routine late-summer drill.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”

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