Where There’s Smoke…

…well, there are no fires here.

When you live out west, the weather forecast can include information related to smoke. And that’s the situation this week, for good reason:

Forecast
This is not the kind of forecast I like to see.

The smoke drifted in yesterday morning, looking like a low thin cloud layer. Throughout the day, it thickened and settled into the valley I can see from my house.

Normal View
Smokey View
My normal view (top) includes glimpses of the North Cascades, at least 50 miles away. Add wildfire smoke and you get my view this morning (bottom), which is barely four miles.

As the northwest’s weather guru, Cliff Mass, blogged yesterday, the smoke is mostly from fires in British Columbia, which isn’t too far from here. There are two fires in northwestern Washington and I heard a rumor that there was one much closer at Blewett Pass, but have not been able to confirm that. Fortunately, they’re not here — although there’s plenty ready to burn if a spark or ember touched down.

Sunrises and sunsets have been minor events lately, with the sun looking like a Sunkist navel orange as it hovers on the horizon. It reminds me of the sunsets back in New York that I admired so much. I remember the one on July 10, 1983 that I drove down to the West End 2 parking lot at Jones Beach to photograph. An orange ball like the one in the sky here today sunk into the western horizon, silhouetting Manhattan skyscrapers in the distance. I got more than photos that day, but that’s a story not worth telling anymore.

Smokey Sunrise, Untouched
Here’s what the sun looked like about 1/2 hour after sunrise. This is an unedited (except for cropping) cell phone photo.

Oddly, back in those days I never realized that that orange ball sunset was caused by air pollution. Ick.

I was supposed to make a day trip by helicopter to visit a friend of mine out on Lopez Island today. It’s an 80-minute flight and I can land in my friend’s yard. I haven’t seen him in months and was really looking forward to it. But when I checked the weather this morning and discovered that the smoke was moving out his way, too, I had second thoughts. My email to him at 6 AM asking whether there was smoke and his response confirming there was was enough for me to change my plans and stay home. If it’s smokey here and smokey there then it’s likely to be smokey en route. And the last thing I wanted to do today was spend nearly 3 hours in a helicopter flying through smoke. (The journey is usually almost as good as what awaited at the destination.)

So I’m home for the day. I went out this morning to pick blueberries and glean rainier cherries with a friend. But we were back by 11. It’s hot and sticky out in the filtered sunlight, with a level of humidity I like to avoid. I’ll do some work in my garage with my new jumbo fan pointed at me. When I get tired of that, I’ll come back upstairs, take a shower, have a snack, and do things in air conditioned comfort.

Or take a nap.

But you can bet I won’t be outside, breathing the dirty air sent down from Canada.

2 thoughts on “Where There’s Smoke…

  1. The BC fires are on a massive scale. The Elephant Hill fire covered 86,000 hectares (212,000 acres), it is one of hundreds of fires, some were started as ‘controlled burns’ which rapidly became uncontrolled when the wind exceeded predictions.
    I can understand why you avoid flying through that murk. Presumably all that burning biomass can clog-up engine air filters quite quickly?
    Western Canada has stunning views. At this time of year it can also have some nasty smells too.
    Only rain will wash that from the sky.

    • Honestly, my only concern when flying in smokey areas is visibility. I’ve been in some pretty thick stuff over terrain I know well and it was scary. A flight over a mountain range (the Cascades) with the potential to lose sight of reference points is downright terrifying. While I don’t think the smoke was that bad yesterday, it’s also not a very pleasant flight when you can’t take in what would normally be magnificent view.

      We need rain badly here. None at all for over six weeks.

What do you think?