A blanket of smoke hung over the Spokane area on Wednesday as a result of wildfires and prescribed burns in North Idaho and northeast Washington, worsening the regional air quality index to 135 by mid-afternoon, or “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”
The air quality worsened to “unhealthy” levels in Newport, Washington, where the air quality index reached 164 by 2 p.m.
“There’s a lot of fires burning in Idaho and Idaho panhandle that pushed smoke to the east and all the fires in the Cascades have been ventilating out to the Columbia basin well. It’s not one source,” said Matt Dehr, a meteorologist with the Department of Natural Resources. “It’s a lot of fires and not a lot of movement to get all the smoke out of there.”
The air quality is expected to remain about the same in Spokane through Thursday. A high-pressure system with little wind will keep the smoke in Spokane until about Friday.
However, a new weather pattern on Friday will likely bring an abrupt end to the dry and smoky autumn, said Rocco Pelatti, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. The change will impact the entire state, he said.
“That’s going to allow not only considerable rainfall, but the first significant mountain snowfalls of the season,” he said. “Above 4,000 feet you’ll see some snow.”
The wet weather is about three weeks late, Dehr said.
“We have had the driest start to October since 1986 and 1987,” he said. “It’s been close to 30 years since we’ve seen an October this dry.”
Smoke west of the Cascades reduced air quality to “unhealthy” and “very unhealthy” conditions throughout much of the Puget Sound area on Wednesday. The air quality just south of Leavenworth reached “hazardous” conditions on Wednesday.
The fires responsible for the Puget Sound’s smoke are the Loch Katrine fire, which Dehr said was “pumping smoke directly into Seattle” last weekend, as well as the Nakia Creek fire and the Siouxon fire, which were responsible for much of the smoky conditions near Vancouver and Portland.
Temperatures are also expected to drop significantly in the Spokane area, from highs in the low 70s this week to an anticipated high of 49 degrees at the Spokane Airport on Sunday.
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