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Current Air Quality and Restrictions:

Click here to check the most recent PM2.5 concentrations on Montana's Today's Air website!


Air Quality is Good to Moderate in the Missoula Valley

 Check Today's Air (link above) for current concentrations

Last updated: 9/19/17 at 10 a.m.

 Air Quality is Good to Moderate in the Seeley and Swan Valleys

Check Today's Air (link above) for current concentrations

Last updated: 9/19/17 at 10 a.m.

 

HANDOUTS:

Activity guidelines for schools, sporting events and day cares

Flyer about HEPA filters

Air Quality: Discussion


UPDATE: September 19, 10 a.m.

The passing cold fronts have dramatically slowed our local fires, and air quality has improved throughout Missoula County.  There may continue to be some lingering impacts directly adjacent to the Rice Ridge and Liberty Fires until there is snow on the fires. This website will be updated if the smoke returns.

UPDATE: September 18, 8:00 am. 
The Lolo Peak and Rice Ridge fires are continuing to send out smoke, and early this morning we saw Unhealthy conditions in Seeley Lake, Clearwater Junction and Florencet.  Conditions have improved to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Seeley Lake and Florence, but air quality is still Unhealthy in Clearwater Junction.  Conditions should continue to improve today.

Air quality is generally Moderate throughout the rest of Missoula County.

UPDATE: September 17, 5 p.m.

Air quality is good to moderate through out Missoula County.

Even with the snow, rain and cooler temperatures, the Rice Ridge and Lolo Peak fires continue to put out smoke.  Air quality may become Unhealthy in Seeley Lake and Florence again tonight.    

With more rain and continued cool temperatures in the forecast for the week ahead, the Rice Ridge and other fires should continue to dampen down.  Continued reductions in smoke impacts are expected this week.   I don't know how most other people feel, but a short early winter going back to a nice fall sounds perfect to me.  

UPDATE: September 17, 10 a.m.

Even with the snow, rain and cooler temperatures, the Rice Ridge and Lolo Peak fires continue to put out smoke.  Air quality is Unhealthy in Seeley Lake, Clearwater Junction and Florence.  Air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in  Rainy Lake.  Air quality is good to moderate in the rest of Missoula County.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Air quality may improve later today in Florence, Clearwater Junction and Seeley Lake with afternoon winds.

With more rain and continued cool temperatures in the forecast for the week ahead, the Rice Ridge and other fires should continue to dampen down.  Very nice that the snows came before the traditional first snow date of Halloween this year.

UPDATE: September 15, 11 a.m.

The cold front has dramatically slowed our local fires, and air quality has improved throughout Missoula County.  There are still fires actively burning in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and northwest Montana, so smoke may continue to be an issue in the coming days. This website will be updated if the smoke returns.


 

UPDATE: September 14, 4:00 p.m.

We've seen some pretty dramatic air quality improvements today, but there is still smoke lingering around the county.  It was particularly pungent this morning, and we've continued to get whiffs this afternoon in Missoula.  

There has been a pretty rad weather system passing through Montana today, but all of the early excitement has been along the Continental Divide and along the Rocky Mountain Front.  There's snow on Rogers Pass, you guys.  

Happily, we're starting to see some precipitation over Missoula County this afternoon.    The precipitation, cool temperatures and increased humidities will help calm fire behavior.  Most of our local fires are lined up to at least get some rain showers over the next 24 hours, and some may see snow.  I'm not expecting much active fire behavior, and the smoke impacts will become more localized as time goes on.  

However, the fires in northwest Montana aren't supposed to get much precipitation, if any, and they will continue to send out smoke for at least the next several days (there is another weather system expected to arrive early next week that should help knock down those fires.)  There are also still fires burning in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.  Overall, I'm expecting continued diminishing smoke impacts, but there are still fires out there, and if the wind shifts we shouldn't be too surprised if smoke makes it back to our valleys.  And of course, we will still see smoke from our own fires until they are out.  (And I think we all know that wet, smoldering fires can send off some pretty unpleasant smoke.  So you can be hopeful, but also be prepared.)

The winds are supposed to remain pretty brisk through the evening, and overnight inversions will be weak. The odds of seeing smoke will continue to be higher for folks near the active fires, but there will likely be less smoke pooling tonight compared to earlier in the week.

Air quality is currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Frenchtown and Good to Moderate throughout the rest of Missoula County.

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Super happy radar:

September 14, 2017 afternoon radar

Source: https://radar.weather.gov/radar.php?rid=msx&product=N0R&overlay=11101111&loop=no

UPDATE: September 14, 8:00 a.m.

As of 8 a.m Thursday, air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Missoula, Frenchtown, the Swan Valley, and Florence.  Outside of these areas, air quality is Moderate Missoula County.

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Because smoke conditions can change rapidly and vary widely based on location, wind, fire flare ups and proximity to fires, the department encourages individuals to use visibility as a guideline to help gauge air quality at a given time and place and take appropriate precautions.  If you can’t see 5 miles, the air quality is Unhealthy.  More smoke information is available at http://www.missoulacounty.us/airquality/.  

For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, access Montana’s “Today’s Air” web site. 


 

UPDATE: September 13, 6:00 p.m.

My goodness there are some strong breezes out there!  Most of us are enjoying lovely valley scouring winds and air quality is Good to Moderate throughout the majority of the county.  Our outliers are the folks who are downwind of active fires.  Air quality is Unhealthy in Florence and Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Rock Creek.  The fires have been pretty darn active this afternoon.  Idaho fires are sending smoke to the Bitterroot Valley, and Rock Creek is likely seeing smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire and some Idaho fires.  Also, Seeley Lake is downwind of the Liberty and Black Fires, and that may lead to some deteriorating air quality this evening.

In general, we can expect continued smoke impacts for folks downwind of fires and continued improving air quality everywhere else.  The winds will stay pretty strong all evening, but may die down somewhat near ground level after the sun sets.

There is still a decent chance of smoke pooling near active fires in the morning.  The rain showers aren't supposed to really hit until the afternoon and the fires are very active today, so there may be continued smoke impacts tomorrow morning. Seeley Lake, Florence, Clearwater Junction and Arlee may see air quality that is  Unhealthy or worse.  Fortunately, the overnight inversions are supposed to be pretty weak and the winds will pick up by mid-morning, so I'm not really anticipating much in the way of lingering smoke in the larger valleys.

Tomorrow evening we should see significant precipitation over the region, and snow levels will begin dropping in the mountains.  The curve ball here is that northwest Montana isn't really supposed to see precipitation from this system.  I don't think we'll get hit by smoke from that region, but I will be keeping an eye on it.  There is a chance that the fires near Thompson Falls will continue to send smoke toward the Swan Valley until they see real precipitation.  The good news is that there is another cold wet system headed our way next week.  This should be it, folks.  It's going to be time to dance in the rain.  

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

Still plenty of fire activity today:

September 13, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

There are some plumes visible through the clouds.  This is from NASA's Worldview.  The photo was taken earlier this afternoon.  Note all the little red dots.  Those are heat detections.  This may be one of the last photos we see this year with so many little red dots of doom.  

September 13, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

Source: https://worldview.earthdata.nasa.gov/

UPDATE: September 13, 11:00 a.m.

I know we're all laser focused on the tomorrow's forecast, but there's still smoke today, and we may see some very active fires this afternoon.  The fires were pretty active overnight, and that led to smoke pooling under the inversion layer near the fires.  Florence and Seeley Lake have Very Unhealthy air quality.  Conditions in Arlee were better than I expected early this morning, but smoke from the Liberty Fire looks to have mixed down and air quality is now Unhealthy in Arlee.

The Rice Ridge Fire is sending smoke up the Swan Valley.  That smoke has started to mix down, and conditions in the Holland Lake area are rapidly approaching Unhealthy.  Condon has also started to see deteriorating air quality.  The air quality in Condon is currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups and may become Unhealthy before noon.

The rest of us are seeing some overhead smoke starting to mix down, and that is leading to haze and deteriorating air quality.  We may see widespread Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups air quality later this morning, with some potential pockets of Unhealthy air quality.

Speaking of which, the air quality at Clearwater Junction has been fluctuating all morning and trending more toward Unhealthy than not.  It looks like there is smoke from both the Liberty and Rice Ridge fires in that area this morning.  Also, the Liberty Fire has spunk, you guys.  It had a pretty decent plume going early this morning, and its smoke is stretching across Salmon and Seeley lakes.  The Black and Rice Ridge fires also woke up pretty early, and boy howdy you should see the plumes coming off the fires near and around Thompson Falls.  Those fires were really active last night, and they're sending a lot of smoke toward north central Montana.  Unfortunately, those fires may not see the rain and potential snow that's in the forecast for our fires.  We may continue to see smoke plumes from those fires, but it doesn't look like are too likely to be downwind of them any time soon.  (The caveat here is that we do see the potential for some northwest winds aloft over the weekend that may send some of that smoke our way.  The odds aren't great, but there is a possibility.)

Today may be an active fire day.  We will see strong winds and very dry air this afternoon. There is a red flag warning in effect from 3:00 p.m. through 8:00 p.m.  Transport winds will be generally westerly and strong.  We may see more plumes around the area this afternoon, and folks downwind of active fires are likely to see deteriorating conditions in the late afternoon or early evening.

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors. 

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

We saw some overnight fire activity, particularly on the Rice Ridge and the Highway 200 Complex by Thompson Falls.

September 13, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

Some of our fires got an early start this morning.  This will be an active fire day. The fluffy white things are clouds.

September 13, 2017 morning satellite photo

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: September 13, 7:00 a.m.

As of 7 a.m Wednesday, air quality is generally Moderate in Missoula, Frenchtown, the Potomac Valley and the Swan Valley. Air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Rock Creek and Arlee.  Air is Very Unhealthy in Florence and Hazardous in Seeley Lake. Our monitor in Lolo is down for repairs.  Residents are encouraged to use visibility to determine smoke levels.  If you can't see five miles, the air quality is Unhealthy.

Conditions in may deteriorate later this morning when overhead smoke mixes down.

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Because smoke conditions can change rapidly and vary widely based on location, wind, fire flare ups and proximity to fires, the department encourages individuals to use visibility as a guideline to help gauge air quality at a given time and place and take appropriate precautions. 

For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, access Montana’s “Today’s Air” web site


 

UPDATE: September 12, 6:30 p.m.

Today has been pretty smoky.  I expected Missoula to clear out better than it has this afternoon.  There's still time, though.  The atmosphere is supposed to become mighty unstable this evening, and frankly, conditions are ripe for seeing a quick air quality improvement.  With any luck, this update will be out of date by the time I hit "send".  (You do not want to know the number of times I've had to quickly go through and change updates right before sending them out this wildfire season.  The answer is a lot.)

While several areas did see significant improvement, there is still smoke lingering in some areas around Missoula County.  Florence, Missoula and Seeley Lake all currently have Unhealthy air quality. Lolo may also have Unhealthy air quality (our monitor is not currently reliable, but just based on location and the conditions in Florence and Missoula, it seems likely.  Still, folks in Lolo are encouraged to look at the air and see how smoky it is.  If you can't see five miles, the air quality is Unhealthy.)  All of these areas are downwind of active fires.  Missoula has been catching the edge of the Lolo Peak Fire plume, the Bitterroot is being hit by the Lolo Peak and Idaho fires, and Seeley Lake is downwind of the Liberty and Black fires.

The Swan Valley saw a lot of smoke early this afternoon, but they are enjoying a really nice clearing.  Conditions improved from Very Unhealthy to Moderate in Condon and from Hazardous to Moderate in the Holland Lake area.

Clearwater Junction has also seen significant improvement - they were flirting with Very Unhealthy air quality this morning, but had improved to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups before we last touch with that monitor.  (The Clearwater monitor has a tendency to go dark and then wake up and throw a ton of data out all at once.  It clearly lives in the moment.)

Rock Creek and the Potomac Valley both saw deteriorating conditions this afternoon when overhead smoke mixed down.  Both areas have improved to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

Frenchtown saw a pretty short influx of smoke and they've already recovered to Moderate conditions.

I expect conditions to improve in most areas around Missoula County this evening.  However, the fires are pretty active today, and some areas will be hit by plumes.  The Lolo Peak Fire is sending quite a bit of smoke over Clinton and the Potomac and it's headed for Greenough.  Idaho fires are primarily sending smoke to the Bitterroot, but there is some Idaho smoke headed toward Rock Creek.  

Tomorrow morning we are likely to see smoke pooling near active fires.  Based on how unstable the atmosphere is supposed to be, and the amount of cloud cover moving in, there's a good chance the inversions won't be terribly strong.  Still, Seeley Lake, Florence and Arlee may all have significant smoke impacts in the morning.  There will likely be overhead smoke for the rest of us.  We may not have too much haze early in the morning, but the overhead smoke will likely mix down and cause pretty widespread impacts in the mid-morning hours.

Tomorrow afternoon is supposed to be quite windy.  Windy enough, in fact, that there's a red flag warning in effect from 3:00 p.m. through 8:00 p.m.  If these breezes arrive, they should do a decent job of scouring the valleys clear.  Of course, they are also likely to encourage fire growth, which would lead to additional smoke impacts, particularly for folks downwind of the fires.

But I'm going to be honest with you - looking at the forecast and what's coming, it's hard to focus that much on what may be our last day of significant smoke impacts.  You guys.  This is an actual quote from the National Weather Service:  If fire season isn`t finished by the time this week is over, it will end next week.

The models are coming into glorious agreement that the weather is going to get cold and rainy and snowy on the mountains.  Precisely who gets what precipitation of course remains to be seen, but this is just terribly exciting.  I'll miss these rambling updates, but the stockpile of dumb smoke jokes has been getting pretty low and boy howdy do I ever want to get outside.  We will continue to send out updates as conditions warrant (so there will be updates tomorrow, I'm sure).  But ohmygoodness, rain and snow!  (And this is where I remind myself and everyone else that we still need Washington, Oregon and Idaho to also have season slowing and season ending events.  This cold front will hit a lot of fires in other states, but the precipitation amounts will vary.  Still, I'm feeling pretty optimistic.)

See all these little red dots?  One more day, red dots.  Your reckoning is nigh.  Also, I think the fires must've heard about the coming storm, because they are trying to eat up a lot of ground today.

September 12, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

The color GOES 16 satellite is still having conniptions, so here's an early afternoon shot from VIIRS.

September 12, 2017 afternoon color satellite photo

Source: https://worldview.earthdata.nasa.gov/

Here's a black and white GOES 16 photo from late this afternoon.  So many plumes!

September 12, 2017 afternoon black and white satellite photo

Source: http://weather.cod.edu/satrad/exper/?parms=pacnorthwest-02-200-0-100

And here's a nice zoomed out version of the color satellite.  It's a pretty active fire day.

September 12, 2017 afternoon zoomed out satellite photo

UPDATE: September 12, 10:30 a.m.

The fires were fairly active yesterday, and thanks to the high pressure ridge and strong inversions, that translated into smoke in our breathing space this morning.  We've seen pooled smoke near active fires, and a lot of overhead smoke pretty much everywhere else.  The color GOES 16 satellite website is having some conniptions this morning, so I can't get a recent satellite photo (the most recent one available is from when it was still mostly dark outside.)  I'll give you what we've got, and then hopefully there will be better ones to send around later today.

Seeley Lake is seeing the worst smoke, again.  After a short reprieve, Seeley Lake is once again seeing Hazardous air quality this morning.  Smoke from the Rice Ridge Fire is currently impacting the Seeley Lake Valley and Clearwater Junction/Ovando area.  However, the smoke is also stretching north over the Swan Valley.  Conditions in Seeley Lake are likely to rapidly improve later this morning/afternoon when the inversion breaks, but conditions in the Swan Valley are likely to plummet.  Conditions in Condon have already started to deteriorate.   We are currently seeing Moderate air quality in the Holland Lake area and Unhealthy air quality in Condon.  It is very possible that later this morning both of these areas will see Unhealthy or Very Unhealthy conditions.

The Liberty Fire continues to send smoke to Arlee and the Clearwater Junction area.  Conditions in Clearwater Junction are Unhealthy, and conditions in Arlee are Very Unhealthy.  Arlee is likely to see improvements when the inversion breaks, but Clearwater Junction may take a while to really improve.  They're seeing smoke from two fires and there is likely quite a bit of smoke over the inversion layer.  Conditions in Clearwater may be worse before they get better.

The Lolo Peak Fire was actually  kind of active last night, and that has resulted in a lot of overhead smoke in the Missoula Valley as well as pooled smoke in Florence.  Air quality in Florence is currently Very Unhealthy, and they saw some Hazardous conditions last night.  Florence should see improvements later this morning.

The Lolo monitor is apparently not operating all that well today, so my best advice for folks in Lolo is to look at the air.  It's not as snazzy as reading those sweet, sweet data points from a monitor, but when the monitor becomes untrustworthy, it's acceptable to look outside.  If you can't see five miles, the air quality is Unhealthy. (And if we're being honest, it's always acceptable to look outside.  The monitor provides data for the last hour, so rapid, dramatic changes after the hour won't be reflected until the next hour's data becomes available.  In previous years when we didn't have this awesome temporary monitoring network, I would find out what the air was like in places without monitors by driving around and looking at the air.  We are just super high tech here.)

Conditions in Missoula are Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, but they are likely to deteriorate somewhat this morning.  There's a lot of overhead smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire, and it will start mixing down momentarily.  We may reach Unhealthy air quality.

Frenchtown, Rock Creek and the Potomac Valley have Moderate conditions right now, but they will likely also see some deteriorating conditions later this morning.

We will continue to have some widespread smoke impacts through at least the beginning of the afternoon.  However, there is a pretty decent likelihood that we will see some nice convection later today to lift the smoke up and out of our breathing space.  The transport breezes will be pretty brisk, so the smoke should be whisked away once it lifts off the valley floor.  

The Idaho fires are still going strong, so the Bitterroot Valley can look forward to more Idaho flavored smoke this afternoon.  The winds aloft are going to be rather southwesterly, so there's a small chance Missoula may also see some Idaho smoke (for now, it looks like most of the Idaho smoke will be going to the Bitterroot.)

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

The relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.  Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700. 

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

There was some fire activity last night.  We might not see very many more maps with all of these red dots on them after this weekend.  Hooray!

September 12, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

The smoke was pooled in valleys this morning, and  you can see some smoke stretching out over larger valleys.  The Rice Ridge smoke is headed north over the Swan Valley.  The glowy golden areas on the photo are from lights in populated areas.

September 12, 2017 morning satellite photo 

UPDATE: September 12, 9:30 a.m.

As of 9 a.m Tuesday, air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Missoula and Condon.  Air quality is Unhealthy in Clearwater Junction, Very Unhealthy in Florence and Arlee, and Hazardous in Seeley Lake.  Air quality is generally Moderate everywhere else.

Conditions in may deteriorate later this morning when overhead smoke mixes down.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Because smoke conditions can change rapidly and vary widely based on location, wind, fire flare ups and proximity to fires, the department encourages individuals to use visibility as a guideline to help gauge air quality at a given time and place and take appropriate precautions.  If you can’t see 5 miles, the air quality is Unhealthy.  More smoke information is available at http://www.missoulacounty.us/airquality/.  

For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, access Montana’s “Today’s Air” web site. 


 

UPDATE: September 11, 5:30 p.m.

It's turned into a pretty decent air quality day for most of us, but Seeley Lake has been dealing with smoke all day.  Conditions improved after the inversion broke around noon, but smoke has been lingering in the area, and it looks like they may also be receiving smoke from fires burning just to the west.  Air quality in Seeley Lake is Unhealthy.  Air quality is Good to Moderate everywhere else.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

From looking at the satellite, the odds are pretty good that several additional areas are going to be on the receiving end of smoke plumes this afternoon.  They will be subject to the "plume plop" - that oh so special period of the afternoon when smoke from far away fires lands on your head.  Rock Creek has been subjected to several plume plops thanks to the Lolo Peak Fire over the past few weeks, and they may see more this afternoon.  And no, plume plop is not a scientific term.  It is, however, fun to say.  You're welcome.

The fires were perhaps more active than you may have been expecting.  While we've had relatively pleasant (if hazy and occasionally smelly) air in Missoula today, there is quite a bit of smoke being produced all around the region.  The fires in Idaho have been sending a lot of smoke east, and conditions in the Bitterroot Valley are likely to deteriorate this evening as a result.

I know you're all excited for the weather shift later this week, but first we have to get through Tuesday, and it's probably going to start out fairly smoky.  We are still under high pressure, and the fires have been putting out a decent amount of smoke today.  That means we will start tomorrow morning with more smoke than we did this morning.  We're looking at cool temperatures and calm wind tonight, which means significant smoke pooling near active fires.  Conditions in Lolo, Florence, Arlee and Seeley Lake are likely to be Unhealthy or worse.  Florence and Seeley Lake, in particular, have the potential to be Very Unhealthy or Hazardous by morning.

We will likely see widespread haze everywhere else.

The good news is by tomorrow afternoon we should start to see some improvement.  There's good potential for both convective lift and some decent breezes to move the smoke out of our breathing space.

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

The fires have been fairly active today:

September 11, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

We are likely to see some deteriorating air quality downwind of these plumes.  The Bitterroot Valley, in particular, is going to see some potentially significant Idaho smoke by the time the sun sets.  Rock Creek may be dealing with yet another Lolo Peak plume plop. 

September 11, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

The west is still on fire.  This view may look very different by the end of the week.  The weather system is not being called a season ending event, but it is supposed to be a season slowing event.  I'm expecting to see mostly localized smoke impacts in the future.

September 11, 2017 afternoon zoomed out satellite photo

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

I love the GOES 16 satellite, but it doesn't yet give as much detail as what you can find on NASA's Worldview (https://worldview.earthdata.nasa.gov/).  This photo is from earlier in the day.

September 11, 2017 NASA worldview photo

UPDATE: September 11, 12:00 p.m.

While most of us woke up to blue skies and fresh air, there is some thick smoke pooled near active fires and smoke lingering overhead in some of the larger valleys.  Scroll down real quick to look at this morning's satellite photo.  Pretty nifty, eh?  You can see exactly where the fires sent their smoke overnight.  The smoke is pretty well confined this morning, but it is starting to spread out as inversions break.  Also, there will likely be a fair amount of fire activity today, so be on the lookout for more smoke tomorrow morning.

Smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire caused Very Unhealthy air quality in Florence this morning, but conditions have recently improved to Unhealthy.  The Liberty Fire sent smoke to pool in Arlee, where conditions started as Unhealthy and are trending toward Very Unhealthy.  The Rice Ridge Fire has caused Very Unhealthy air quality in Seeley Lake this morning, but it's trending toward Hazardous.  With any luck, the inversion will break before it gets much worse.  Smoke from the Rice Ridge and possibly also the Liberty Fire has caused Unhealthy air quality in Clearwater Junction.  Conditions at Clearwater Junction have been trending toward Very Unhealthy.  

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

Areas with pooled smoke should see significant improvements once inversions break.  Unfortunately, those of us in happy bubbles of clean air have started to see deteriorating conditions as overhead smoke mixes down to our breathing space.  The Holland Lake area is seeing the worst of it - conditions rapidly deteriorated to Unhealthy this morning and may hit Very Unhealthy before it clears out. The smoke in the Missoula area is still pretty localized and I'm not anticipating much worse than Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups conditions in the Missoula.  Air quality in the Potomac Valley has already deteriorated to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. 

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

We are under a high pressure ridge, which will cause our smoke to linger in the valleys and we will likely see some widespread haze this afternoon.  Transport and surface breezes will be slow and generally from the northwest. If the fires do gain steam, areas downwind of active fires may see additional smoke impacts this afternoon.

This, right here, is a snazzy satellite photo.  Look at all the little pools of smoke!  Nifty!  Also, it does a good job of illustrating how we can have such variable air quality even within a valley.  Note how the Lolo Peak Fire smoke is hugging just one side of the Bitterroot Valley.  Wildfire smoke is weird, y'all.September 11, 2017 morning satellite photo

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: September 11, 8:30 a.m.

As of 8 a.m Monday, air quality is Very Unhealthy in Seeley Lake and Lolo and Unhealthy in Arlee.  Air quality is Good to Moderate throughout the rest of Missoula County.  Conditions in may deteriorate later this morning when overhead smoke mixes down.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

Because smoke conditions can change rapidly and vary widely based on location, wind, fire flare ups and proximity to fires, the department encourages individuals to use visibility as a guideline to help gauge air quality at a given time and place and take appropriate precautions.  If you can’t see 5 miles, the air quality is Unhealthy.  More smoke information is available at http://www.missoulacounty.us/airquality/.  

For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, access Montana’s “Today’s Air” web site. 


 

UPDATE: September 10, 6:30 p.m.

It is a good afternoon, isn't it?  We're finally enjoying clean air and pleasant temperatures across Missoula County.  We've lost a month and a half to the smoke, but today was a good day.  In fact, the air quality is legit classified as Good, with the 1-hour PM2.5 concentration below 12 ug/m3 everywhere but Seeley Lake and Rock Creek, where conditions are Moderate.

We have a few more hours of these marvelous breezes, and then we will start our brief return to stable conditions.  A short-lived high pressure ridge will set up for Monday, and we will be looking at strong inversions and meager surface and transport breezes.  While it's been easy to pretend there aren't fires everywhere today, they are still all around us.  Tomorrow morning we will likely see significant pooled smoke near active fires, with conditions potentially ranging from Unhealthy to Hazardous in Florence, Lolo, Arlee and Seeley Lake.

The stable atmosphere is likely to lead to widespread haze and deteriorating conditions near active fires tomorrow.  We may see some smoke from Idaho in the afternoon, which would lead to deteriorating conditions in the Missoula area.  The Bitterroot Valley is likely to continue to see Idaho smoke, and will likely have worse air quality than Missoula.

The ridge should break down by Tuesday afternoon, and then, holy smokes, you guys.  We are looking at a major change in the weather.  Break out your fall jackets, and maybe even your umbrellas and galoshes.  There's a cold front in Canada that looks pretty determined to swing down and pay us a visit.  Temperatures are expected to plummet on Thursday and Friday, and there is a better than decent chance of precipitation.  Again, when and where the precipitation falls is still up in the air - it might not hit all of our fires, and it's going to take snow cover to really end the wildfire season.  But I think we're going to start seeing considerably more localized smoke impacts after this week.  (That being said, I will continue to keep an eye on Washington fires - they are not expected to see any significant precipitation this week.)

We are seeing some fire activity today, but not as much as yesterday.

September 10, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

 

This is the Seeley Lake area webcam from Clearwater Montana Properties, Inc: http://cmpmontana.com/Webcams

Most mornings when I look at this webcam, I can only see the front row of trees.  I don't know how it will look tomorrow morning - there is likely to be pooled smoke in the area.  But right now, there is wonderful, breathable air in the Seeley and Swan valleys.

September 10, 2017 Seeley Lake webcam


UPDATE: September 10, 10:30 p.m.

No news is good news.  So I will keep the morning air quality update short.  Not quite no news yet, but we may be making progress towards that goal.  Light breezes in the forecast means it should be a good day to go outside.

Air quality is good to moderate across Missoula County except for Florence which is at unhealthy.  Even Seeley Lake which was trending towards Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups appears to be keeping the smoke at bay and is at moderate levels.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

Looking ahead, we have a weak disorganized (I like saying that since we do not want another strong high pressure ridge) high pressure ridge scheduled for Monday, which will lead to increased haze and inversions.  We are unlikely to see as much overhead out-of-state smoke and are more likely to be dealing with smoke from our local fires while the ridge is present.  Toward the end of the week we are looking at a major pattern shift.  I don't typically describe the National Weather Service as giddy, but there are some giddy meteorologists over there talking up a season slowing event.  There is growing potential for some cool temperatures and measurable precipitation toward the end of next week.  There may even be snow at high elevations.  The most significant precipitation is likely to be confined to the Continental Divide. 

Link to the Inciweb Montana incidents : https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

Cloud cover hampered fire detection, but continued burning on Rice Ridge, Liberty and the Lolo Peak fires on Saturday were still apparent on today’s fire detection fly over.

Fire Detection September 10, 2017

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

Pockets of smoke are visible south and east of Missoula, but a lot of clear good air in the mix for western Montana.  Many clouds are obscuring some of the smoke plumes that are still out there.

Wildfire Smoke Missoula September 10, 2017 

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

 

UPDATE: September 9, 6:30 p.m.

There are some adorable fluffy white clouds overhead and we're finally able to start picking out details on Mount Sentinel.  I can't promise the air is going to be amazing tonight, but it's definitely better!  We've seen increasing breezes over the past couple hours across the county, which has led to significant air quality improvements.  Air quality is generally Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Frenchtown, Arlee and the Swan Valley (some of these areas may become Moderate by later this evening).  Air quality is Unhealthy everywhere else.  While we have seen a lot of improvement in Missoula and Seeley Lake, the smoke is still mighty stubborn.  (Like this we saw early this morning - the smoke is better, it's just not BETTER.)  However, there is still some opportunity for improvement over the next few hours. 

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

We will continue to see strong breezes this evening, but they will die down around midnight, which means we will likely see smoke pooling near active fires in the morning, and potentially Very Unhealthy or Hazardous conditions.  The last of our accumulated overhead smoke looks to be headed into Canada tonight.  It's possible that after inversions break and convection sets in we may see actual clear skies by Sunday afternoon.  Some areas may even start the day with decent air.  I do, unfortunately, have to tell you that the flow aloft will be generally from the west and southwest, and Washington and Idaho smoke may wreck our happy clean air dance (in case you've forgotten, there are a lot of fires in Idaho).  Still, I'd keep your tap shoes handy, just in case.

We have seen some fire activity today, most notably on the Rice Ridge Fire, which looks to have picked up some acreage.  The Liberty, Black and Lolo Peak fires are also seeing some fire activity, albeit to a lesser extent.  The northern end of the Swan Valley is seeing smoke from the Highway 200 Complex near Thompson Falls, which means tomorrow morning there may be Highway 200 Complex smoke trapped under the inversion and Rice Ridge smoke lingering over the inversion in that area.

The red flag warning extends until 9:00 p.m., so there is still the potential for significant additional fire activity this evening.

Looking ahead, we have a high pressure ridge scheduled for Monday, which will lead to increased haze and stubborn inversions.  We are unlikely to see as much overhead out-of-state smoke and are more likely to be dealing with smoke from our local fires while the ridge is present.  Toward the end of the week we are looking at a major pattern shift.  I don't typically describe the National Weather Service as giddy, but there are some giddy meteorologists over there talking up a season slowing event.  There is growing potential for some cool temperatures and measurable precipitation toward the end of next week.  There may even be snow at high elevations.  The most significant precipitation is likely to be confined to the Continental Divide. 

I need to point out that this is still pretty far away, and who gets what precipitation when is still being worked out.  Also, this is not the season ending event we're looking for.  However, this system and the potential arrival of fall-like weather the following week should herald a significant shift in how we are impacted by smoke generated both here and in the surrounding states.  Keep in mind that even if we get amazing, marvelous snow or heavy rain on our fires, there are still fires burning in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.  If those fires also see a significant amount of precipitation, then we can all breathe a bit easier (literally).  However, the horrible no good, very bad wildfire smoke season of 2012 that dragged into October was the result of fires burning primarily in Washington and Idaho.  Also, our local fires will continue to produce smoke as long as they have heat, which means communities immediately adjacent to those fires will continue to see smoke even if there are no longer impressive plumes or active fire behavior.  And of course, the colder it gets, the stronger the inversions become, so areas that do see pooled smoke will see it for later into the day. 

Do you enjoy crushing hopes and dreams? You too could be an air quality specialist!  (Full disclosure: I don't actually enjoy crushing hopes and dreams.  I'm just maybe a little bit good at it.)

The relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.  Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700. 

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

The fires are actively burning today, and will likely remain pretty active for at least the next few hours.

September 9, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

The Rice Ridge Fire is sending out a decent plume this afternoon, and the entire county is continuing to see overhead smoke from Idaho.  While there is a chance of real clearing tomorrow, there are just a lot of fires in wilderness in Idaho, and we may very well see their smoke by tomorrow afternoon.

September 9, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

Most of the accumulated overhead smoke has made its way into Canada.  There is some Oregon and Idaho smoke headed our way, but there's a chance the Oregon smoke will dive south before it hits us.

September 9, 2017 afternoon zoomed out satellite photo

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

 

UPDATE: September 9, 11:00 a.m.

If you woke up and thought to yourself, "Hmm.  It's not as apocalyptic outside as it's been, I bet it's a bit better," you were correct!  It is was a bit better outside.  It wasn't good, but it was the best air we'd seen since Sunday.  Aside from the particulate concentrations being somewhat lower than they were last night, I present evidence in photographic form.  If you scroll down and check out the satellite photos, you'll notice that today we can actually see through the overhead smoke to identify some geographic features and thick pooled smoke from our local fires.  Also, there's still a distressing amount of smoke pooled near active fires. 

We've seen some slower fire activity lately, largely due to overhead smoke cooling temperatures and preventing the sun hitting the ground at full force.  However, while they haven't been as zippy as last weekend, the fires have still been chugging along all week, producing smoke that has both pooled in tiny valleys and spread across the landscape. 

The pooled smoke is creating Hazardous air quality in Seeley Lake (their 35th morning of Hazardous air quality since August 1st), and Very Unhealthy air quality in Lolo and Arlee.  Our monitor in Florence is still down, but based on what we're seeing in Lolo, I expect conditions in Florence are on the edge between Very Unhealthy and Hazardous.  The overhead smoke is creating Unhealthy air everywhere else.  Like I said - it was better this morning, but only in the way that spilling half your coffee after tripping in the hallway is better than spilling all of the coffee.  It still isn't good, and if tell people it's good they will look at you funny and suggest you get some paper towels.  

Anyway.

Pretty much every valley in northwestern and west central Montana in is still filled with smoke, and while some of it is from the final remnants of the Smoke Spiral, a lot of it is from our own fires.  As we get further into September, and the inversions get stronger and last longer, you will notice that you can pick out tiny ravines on morning satellite photos.  The smoke is entrenched in every nook and cranny it can find, and it won't budge until the inversions break.  This has been happening all wildfire season, but now that the inversions are lasting longer into the morning, you have more opportunities to see it from space.

As the inversions in the larger valleys have been breaking this morning, we've seen conditions start to deteriorate.  We have less overhead smoke than earlier in the week, but there's still plenty of smoke up there from both distant and local fires.  We can expect to see continued deteriorating conditions this morning in the Swan, Missoula, Ninemile and Potomac valleys as smoke mixes down.  Conditions in Seeley Lake, Lolo, Florence and Arlee should improve when their inversions break and the pooled smoke is finally able to leave the valley bottoms.  This is, you may notice, a return to the smoke behavior that we were observing before the crazy strong high pressure ridge and Smoke Spiral set up residence last week.  Now that we're returning to a less stable atmosphere and considerably less overhead smoke, there will once again be fluctuating smoke conditions throughout the day. 

We have the potential for some valley scouring winds this afternoon, but it's looking like there will also still be some overhead smoke.  Mixing heights will likely be high enough this afternoon to pull that smoke down to our breathing space.  So while there's a chance of some surface level winds pushing away our built up smoke, they may just end up delivering fresh smoke faster and with more energy.

Transport winds will generally be from the west and northwest today.  Plumes from our fires will reach those winds this afternoon and be escorted to drop smoke on folks living downwind.  The winds aloft are staying mostly southwesterly today, and we will continue to see overhead smoke head our way from Idaho.  So, this afternoon you can look forward to some potential valley scouring, some potential overhead smoke mixing down and some potential plumes dropping smoke down on your head.  Keep a wary eye out, and if you're one of the lucky folks who gets smoke clearing, run outside and take some deep breaths for the rest of us.

Today we are looking at critical fire weather conditions, with strong winds over active fires.  This will likely lead to acreage gains, and significant smoke production.  We can expect active fire behavior throughout the weekend, and with high pressure setting up briefly on Monday, that means we will likely see continued smoke impacts throughout the start of next week.  There is a growing possibility of a dramatic change in the weather starting at the end of next week, and if it arrives it may mean some precipitation on the fires.  This is not looking like a season ending event, but it should help slow the season down and start reducing some of the widespread smoke impacts we've been seeing.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

The relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.  Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700. 

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

There is still enough overhead smoke to limit our chances at complete smoke clearing today, but it has thinned out enough that we can pick out pooled smoke from our local fires.  

September 9, 2017 morning satellite photo

If you're looking for a road trip today, may I suggest southwest Montana.

September 9, 2017 mornign zoomed out satellite photo

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.


 

UPDATE: September 8, 7:00 p.m.

There is some air movement out there, which is a nice departure from the past few days.  It's just that the air is filled with smoke.  The southwesterly flow aloft has sent new smoke toward Missoula, and the overhead smoke behemoth has not yet made its way out of our air space.  It's moved a bit, mind you, just not enough to really help our breathing.  The continued presence of overhead smoke (plenty of which mixed down today) has resulted in deteriorating conditions in some areas, and unimpressive improvements in others.  And of course, underneath all of that smoke is the fresh smoke being generated by local fires.  It's a smoke buffet, really.

The end result of all this is, unfortunately, widespread terrible air.  It's bad everywhere.  Even Rock Creek, which had jealousy-inducing Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups air quality all day, is now buried under thick smoke.  It's impossible to tell from the satellite precisely what happened to Rock Creek, but the odds are pretty good they're coping with a pretty significant amount of overhead smoke that came down when mixing heights spiked right around 3:00 p.m.  The earlier models from this morning kept mixing heights fairly low, but it looks like mixing heights got high enough today that more overhead smoke than we were expecting was able to come down to wreak havoc on our lungs.

Conditions are Unhealthy in Frenchtown and Clearwater Junction, Hazardous in Lolo, and Very Unhealthy everywhere else.

This is, to put it lightly, tremendously disappointing.  It's not necessarily surprising - it takes a long time to move the amount of smoke that we have overhead, and a less stable atmosphere increases the chances of that smoke mixing down - it's just that I think we're all ready to see mountains again.  

Now, I realize this will surprise some among you, but the High Pressure Ridge of Doom 2017 has not surpassed the High Pressure Ridge of Doom 2015.  We've had a nearly five days of relentlessly miserable air quality this week. In 2015, there were six and a half days of miserable air quality in one week.  I, for one, am totally okay with not setting the new record.  With any luck, the weather system passing through tomorrow will ensure that we don't.

We are still supposed to see a significant amount of wind on Saturday, and that should help usher out the lingering valley smoke.  Unfortunately, the winds aloft are going to be shifting to be from the west (i.e. Washington and northern Idaho), which is not especially great news.  There is still quite a bit of smoke west of us, so while we should see some smoke escorted out of our breathing space, there's a good chance neighboring smoke will take its place.  (There is a small hope that the smoke currently over Washington and northern Idaho will be whisked away into Canada before our winds shift tomorrow morning.  If that happens, we may actually see sky tomorrow.  Remember the sky? It's that big blue thing that usually has a glowing yellow orb in it. I hear it's pretty nifty.) If the winds arrive, it won't be until mid-afternoon, and there's a depressingly good chance that most of the strong winds will be confined to higher elevations.  You know, where the fires are.  There is a red flag warning out for tomorrow afternoon, so be on the lookout for increased fire activity and more local smoke production.

We will continue to see smoke impacts tonight, and tomorrow morning will likely start out like this morning, with widespread smoke and pooled smoke near active fires. We can expect Unhealthy air quality most places with Very Unhealthy to Hazardous air quality near active fires.  Tomorrow afternoon and Sunday afternoon are our best shots at smoke clearing until the middle of next week.  Time to break out your Team Wind T-shirts!

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

The relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.  Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700. 

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

We saw some activity on the Rice Ridge and Liberty fires today.  Tomorrow this map may be considerably more foreboding - there will likely be strong winds over the fires, and if the smoke cover has moved away we can expect some significant fire activity.

September 8, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

Despite the fire activity, it's pretty hard to pick out plumes underneath the overhead smoke and clouds.  There's a smudgy brown blot visible by the Rice Ridge Fire, and the Sheep Gap and some other Highway 200 Complex fires are putting out noticeable smoke, but that's about it for plume detection.

September 8, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

I know it probably doesn't feel like it, but we have sent most of our smoke pretty far away.  We're under the last remnants of the Smoke Spiral.  With any luck the smoke that's over Washington and northern Idaho will be pulled up into Canada before the overhead winds shift direction and send the smoke our way.

September 8, 2017 afternoon zoomed out satellite photo

UPDATE: September 8, 10:30 a.m.

We woke up to yet another day of white skies and muted light.  Some of us had the added bonus of stale campfire smell, which means there's a bit more local smoke making its way to the Missoula Valley this morning.  (When you can see the smoke, but you can't smell the smoke, the odds are pretty good it was generated by distant fires.  The volatile organic chemicals that give smoke that acrid taste and smell don't travel very well.)  Conditions are pretty bad across the county, but with the high pressure ridge moving east and the winds aloft shifting direction, we are actually seeing slightly lesser smoke impacts today compared to yesterday.

In general, there are widespread smoke impacts with the worst smoke near active fires.  The inversions are pretty strong this morning, but with the high pressure ridge moving off, some of the larger valleys should be able to break out of their inversions before noon.  Unfortunately, this may just mean deteriorating morning air quality for those of us near active fires.  There is still a lot of smoke overhead, and while mixing heights today may not be quite high enough to reach the remnants of the Smoke Spiral, there is plenty of local smoke close enough to ground level to come down and hit us later this morning.

We are going to see a pattern change starting this afternoon.  The winds aloft over our area have shifted to be from the southwest, and we're coming out from underneath the Smoke Spiral.  Our main source of out-of-state smoke today will be Idaho.  There is still quite a bit of smoke over Idaho, and they have a lot of active fires.  We will first see that overhead smoke make its way to our area, and then, when their fires wake up, we may start to see some plumes headed our way.  Still, you can actually see parts of Idaho emerging from the smoke in today's satellite photo, and that's tremendously exciting. 

There are also honest-to-goodness clouds headed our way.  We are unlikely to see any measurable precipitation from them, but it is awfully nice to see evidence of the increasing atmospheric instability.  There is a decent chance that some of the smoke that has been so firmly entrenched in our valleys will start moving around this afternoon.  I expect several areas will start to see improvement from convection, and a few lucky souls may see some decent ground-level breezes to push smoke away.  Unfortunately, mixing heights are still pretty low today, and smoke that lifts up may not all reach transport breezes and be ushered away.  There's also a very slight chance of isolated thunderstorms this afternoon, which, you  know, yay weather!  But also, dang.  I don't think any of us have an appetite for lightning or gusty winds over fires.

The transport breezes will be generally from the northwest today, which means parts of the county may see some smoke from the Sheep Gap Fire or other fires in the Highway 200 Complex, and the Liberty and Black fires may send smoke to the Potomac Valley and Clearwater Junction.

The most significant and widespread smoke clearing is likely to occur on Saturday.  We will see much stronger surface and transport breezes, and mixing heights that will allow for smoke to escape the valleys.  However, it is looking like we can expect active fire behavior and more smoke generation.  There's a chance of more high pressure at the start of next week, so if the fires do have a heyday on Saturday or Sunday, we could be reaping the smoke consequences for a few days next week.  Looking far ahead, it appears that we may be finally starting to see more seasonal weather and a more active weather pattern.  This does not  mean the fires will go out.  It does mean that smoke impacts will be more intermittent and will be more plume driven than what we've been seeing.  Folks near active fires can expect continued morning smoke impacts until the fires are out.

We are seeing Unhealthy air quality in Missoula, Frenchtown and the Potomac valley, Very Unhealthy air quality in Clearwater Junction, the Swan Valley and Arlee, and Hazardous air quality in Seeley Lake, Lolo and Florence.  Rock Creek is once again our one happy spot with the least smoke in the county.  They had Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups air quality this morning, but it's starting to trend toward Unhealthy.

Conditions in Seeley Lake, Lolo and Florence are likely to improve when the inversions break and the pooled smoke is able to leave the valley floor.  Conditions in the Swan Valley are likely to deteriorate when the inversions break and smoke from the Rice Ridge Fire is able to mix down.  It should be a temporary smoke incursion - with the high pressure ridge moving off, that smoke should hopefully be able to lift out of the valley later in the afternoon.  There will be variable air quality across the county today, but the odds of anyone seeing dramatic improvements or clear skies are pretty still pretty low.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

The relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.  Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700. 

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

Our fires were still burning last night.  Also, since we're likely to start seeing Idaho smoke, I cropped this so you could see some of the Idaho fires.  There are a lot of Idaho fires.  The largest fires are happily really far south of us (beyond the crop) and are unlikely to hit us with smoke (famous last words).

September 6, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

It's too smoky and cloudy to see any plumes.  But look!  Clouds!  As you can see, we are still under a lot of smoke.  I mean, yeah, you can see that by looking outside, but I'm presenting evidence from space.  And as we all know, space is extra science-y.

September 8, 2017 morning satellite photo

The Smoke Spiral is breaking apart as the high pressure ridge moves east.  The flow aloft over our region is from the southwest, which is sending clouds and Idaho smoke our way.  You can actually see some Idaho mountains in this photo, which is awesome, and gives some hope of less oppressive overhead smoke in our future.  However, underneath the smoke and clouds there are a lot of fires, which means there will likely be plumes of smoke heading our way when the fires wake up.

September 8, 2017 morning zoomed out satellite photo

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: September 8, 7:30 a.m.

As of 7 a.m Friday, air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Rock Creek.  Air quality is Unhealthy in Missoula, Frenchtown, and the Potomac Valley.  Air quality is Very Unhealthy in the Swan Valley and Arlee.  Air quality is Hazardous in Seeley Lake, Lolo and Florence. 

Conditions may deteriorate further this morning when overhead smoke mixes down.

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Because smoke conditions can change rapidly and vary widely based on location, wind, fire flare ups and proximity to fires, the department encourages individuals to use visibility as a guideline to help gauge air quality at a given time and place and take appropriate precautions.  If you can’t see 5 miles, the air quality is Unhealthy. 

For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, access Montana’s “Today’s Air” web site. 


 

UPDATE: September 7, 6:30 p.m.

We had a rough day today, and there's still a lot of smoke blanketing the county.  However, it could have been worse.  It might not feel like it, but I assure you it could have been worse.  We haven't seen too much of the overhead smoke mixing down, and a lot of areas have seen some levels of improvement throughout the afternoon.  Granted, the air is still bad everywhere, but most areas have improved from Very Unhealthy or Hazardous to Unhealthy and Very Unhealthy.  Progress!

Our mixing heights stayed pretty low today, and that allowed some of that far overhead smoke to remain far overhead.  It still blotted out the sun and made for dreary scenery, but it didn't all land on top of us.  Temperatures warmed up to the low 90s in some areas, and this has allowed a little bit of convective lift to bring smoke off the valley floor.  We've seen the most improvement in areas that had pooled smoke this morning.  Conditions in the Potomac Valley, Arlee, and Lolo have all improved from Hazardous to Very Unhealthy.  Seeley Lake, Clearwater Junction and the Holland Lake area improved from Hazardous to Unhealthy.  Condon is our current outlier.  The smoke has not left the valley floor, and conditions are still Hazardous in Condon.  (Any improvement is pretty much undermined by the sheer amount of smoke that would have to leave the area for us to find breathable air.)

Missoula deteriorated to Very Unhealthy this morning, but finally improved to Unhealthy in the last hour.  Frenchtown and Rock Creek stayed Unhealthy all day.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

The relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.  Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700. 

We will continue to see smoke tonight, and there's a good chance some of the areas that saw improvement this afternoon will see a return to super smoky conditions by morning.  The fires were pretty darn active today, which means there will be fresh local smoke added to the stagnant smoke we've been living in for the last couple days.  The Liberty Fire is incredibly unimpressed with any suggestion that it should slow down, and had activity on almost all sides today.  The Rice Ridge Fire primarily grew along its eastern edge, but there are some hot spots on the northwestern side of the fire.  The Black Fire also appears to have picked up some acreage.  The Liberty and Black Fires will send smoke to Arlee and Greenough tonight.  The Liberty Fire may also send smoke to the Potomac Valley.  The Lolo Peak Fire continues to head south, which means more smoky conditions for the Bitterroot Valley.

Tomorrow morning we will see widespread smoke impacts with significant smoke pooling near active fires.  Conditions are likely to be Very Unhealthy or Hazardous in Florence, Lolo, Seeley Lake, the Swan Valley, the Potomac Valley and Clearwater Junction.  Conditions are likely to be Unhealthy everywhere else.

We have seen more plume formation today than yesterday, which has prevented some of the smoke buildup we saw yesterday.  Don't get your hopes up, though.  There's still plenty of smoke, and the plumes, such as they are, are spending far too much time in western Montana to give us any comfort.  It's looking like some of our local smoke will become part of the great swirling smoke spiral in the sky and possibly go pester Idaho before the spiral starts to break up.  Also, the smoke spiral is about to break up!  The high pressure ridge is moving east, and as it does so, we're going to start to see smoke breaking off and heading to Canada, eastern Montana and Wyoming.  The upper winds over western Montana will shift to become southwesterly and they will start to deliver Idaho smoke to our area.  (They will also deliver whatever pooled remnants of the smoke spiral are left over Idaho, so it will still be a smoke smorgasbord when it arrives.)

The shift to a southwesterly flow would generally be associated with increased chances of thunderstorms, but it's very possible the massive amount of smoke in the area will prevent much thunderstorm formation.  (This is good, because I don't think any of us want to see lightning or gusty outflow winds.  It's less good because sometimes thunderstorms comes with sweet, sweet rain and strong valley winds, which would be so lovely right about now.)  Surface and transport breezes will be pretty weak tomorrow, so locally produced smoke probably won't go very far, and there won't be any valley scouring winds.  On the kind of bright side, mixing heights will also stay pretty low, which may limit the amount of overhead smoke that ends up in our breathing space.  Unfortunately, low mixing heights also prevent our smoke from really going anywhere.  Still, with the high pressure ridge moving off there's an increased chance of some convective lift helping reduce ground-level smoke in the afternoon.

So, tonight will be smoky, tomorrow morning will be incredibly smoky, and tomorrow afternoon will be smoky, but maybe not as smoky as this afternoon.  The real interesting forecast starts on the Saturday, when we enter a period of increased instability.  By then we may be out from under the worst of the out-of-state smoke, and there is a chance we may see some air quality improvement.  (We will still be seeing Idaho smoke, though, and the fires in Idaho have been mighty frisky lately.)

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

The fires were fairly active today, and we are likely to see continued fire activity over the next several days.  This means more locally produced smoke, more folks being subject to finding themselves on the receiving end of a smoke plume, and a lot of smoke pooling in valleys near active fires.

September 7, 2017 afternoon fire activity 

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

We're seeing some decent plumes from local fires.  The Rice Ridge has the most impressive plume, but if you look closely, you can see the Lolo Peak Fire sending smoke into the Bitterroot Valley and the Meyers Fire sending smoke south. 

September 7, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

It's getting harder to pick out the smoke spiral what with some of the smoke tearing off and heading to far off places.  However, it's still there.  Here's a loop centered over the spiral: http://col.st/pNG82

Also, if you're looking for some cheap entertainment, you can throw on some music and move the slider back and forth to punctuate dramatic musical moments.  This works particularly well for Beethoven's 5th (1st movement).  It's been a long day...

September 7, 2017 afternoon zoomed out satellite photo

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: September 7, 10:30 a.m.

The smoke is thick, the inversions are strong, and the Smoke Spiral is still rotating overhead.  It's messy out there, folks.  Want to know how thick the smoke is?  Scroll down real quick and check out the amazing photo sent in by the Missoula Office of Emergency Management (OEM).  Steve Mollenhoff, the Communications Coordinator for OEM was on top of Point Six this morning and took this photo looking northwest at Sleeping Woman Peak (also known as Ch-paa-qn Peak).  The mountain is barely peeking up over smoke trapped in the valleys  You can see there's yet more smoke even higher overhead in a band above the mountain peaks.  It's just a lot of smoke.

The smoke from yesterday is still with us this morning, and it's either been holding pretty steady or getting thicker as the hours wear on.  We don't have any happy islands of decent air (except for the top of Point Six, apparently).  The entire county is seeing significant smoke impacts.  Air quality is current Unhealthy in Missoula, Frenchtown and Rock Creek.  Air quality is Very Unhealthy in Arlee.  Conditions are Hazardous in the Potomac Valley, Lolo, Clearwater Junction, Seeley Lake, the Swan Valley, and very likely also in Florence.

The overhead smoke is responsible for the widespread impacts, and it's adding to the local smoke that to create Very Unhealthy and Hazardous conditions.  Smoke from the Rice Ridge fire has filled the Seeley Lake Valley and it has made its way over the Swan Valley, where conditions have been deteriorating all morning.  Liberty Fire smoke is swamping the Clearwater Junction/Greenough area and has poured into the Potomac Valley.  Meanwhile, smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire is pooled in the Bitterroot Valley, creating Hazardous conditions and severely limiting visibility.  The high pressure ridge is preventing any significant smoke movement, and the inversions are strong enough to keep smoke entrenched in valleys for several hours this morning.  We are likely to continue to see significant smoke impacts in these valleys into the afternoon and possibly throughout the day.

Yesterday, Seeley Lake set a record for their all-time worst air quality with a PM2.5 24-hour average of 623.5 ug/m3.  For perspective, the 24-hour National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for PM2.5 is 35 ug/m3.  In order to protect human health, we don't ever want to exceed the NAAQS.  Yesterday, the pollution in Seeley Lake almost 18 times the NAAQS.

Today may be worse.  Seeley lake has exceeded 1,000 ug/m3 for the past five hours.

There are no rays of sunshine in today's forecast. Literally, even.  The smoke is so thick that we are unlikely to see any sky, and sunlight will be muted throughout the day.  Temperatures will be kept about 10 degrees cooler than we would otherwise see today.  This is good news for the fires, and it is nice to have pseudo-seasonal temperatures.  It's just super depressing to know any relief from the heat is due to massive amounts of overhead pollution.  Our surface and transport breezes will be easterly and meager and the inversions are unlikely to break until some time this afternoon.  There will be no valley-scouring winds, and the winds aloft will continue to deposit smoke overhead from the north and northwest.  (Due to the spiraling smoke, the smoke that's north and northwest of us includes smoke from Canada, Washington, Oregon, northern California, and probably also Idaho and possibly even some of our own smoke coming back to get us.  I know it's supposed to be sign of true love if something you've set free comes back for you, but I'm feeling like the smoke we've sent away has ulterior motives in its return.)

While the narrow valleys with pooled smoke may see some improvement this afternoon when inversions break, there will be no significant relief from the smoke.  Those of us who are not in pooled smoke can expect deteriorating conditions this morning when some of the overhead smoke starts mixing down.  We can all expect continued smoke impacts throughout the day.  Some areas may remain Hazardous, and areas that are currently Unhealthy or Very Unhealthy may end up in worse health categories by the afternoon. 

Try not to breathe outside too much today.  Curl up next to an air filter and think kind thoughts toward your lungs.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

The relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.  Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700. 

Tomorrow the axis of the high pressure will start to shift and we will be under a more southwesterly flow aloft.  We will still be seeing incoming smoke from the surrounding region, but it will be coming in a new and exciting direction!  Typically, we could expect some convection and possible thunderstorms as a result of that southwesterly flow, but the smoke may inhibit any interesting weather feature formation.  Looking farther ahead, the weekend may bring an unstable atmosphere with some potentially strong winds and a return to active fire behavior.

Please take care of yourselves and stay out of the smoke as much as possible.  Climate Smart Missoula has some helpful information about how to protect yourself from wildfire smoke: http://www.missoulaclimate.org/wildfire-smoke.html

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

Steve Mollenhoff, the Communications Coordinator for OEM sent in this amazing photo from the top of Point Six.  This is an excellent illustration of smoke trapped under a deep inversion.  Sleeping Woman (Ch-Paa-qn) Peak is almost 8,000 feet in elevation.  There is so much smoke, you guys.

Sleeping Woman Peak through the smoke, September 7, 2017

You can pick out the pooled smoke from local fires underneath the massive overhead smoke spiral. The pooled smoke is unlikely to move out of valleys this morning, and will likely stick around all day.September 7, 2017 morning satellite photo

The Smoke Spiral is continuing to send us smoke from the surrounding region. The axis will be moving east today, and by tomorrow we should be under a southwesterly flow aloft.

September 7, 2017 morning zoomed out satellite photo

UPDATE: September 7, 8:00 a.m.

As of 8 a.m Wednesday, air quality is Unhealthy in Missoula, Frenchtown, Condon and Rock Creek.  Air quality is Very Unhealthy in the Holland Lake area.  Air quality is Hazardous in the Potomac Valley, Florence, Lolo, Arlee, Clearwater Junction and Seeley Lake.

Conditions may deteriorate further this morning, and there will still be smoke this afternoon due to a high pressure ridge trapping smoke in our breathing space. 

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Because smoke conditions can change rapidly and vary widely based on location, wind, fire flare ups and proximity to fires, the department encourages individuals to use visibility as a guideline to help gauge air quality at a given time and place and take appropriate precautions.  If you can’t see 5 miles, the air quality is Unhealthy. 

For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, access Montana’s “Today’s Air” web site.  Thank You


UPDATE: September 6, 6:00 p.m.

 

You guys.  Remember when I told you about the Pacific Northwest Smoke Loop?  I talked about how the smoke from northern California and Oregon was being pulled up into Washington and Canada and then looping back around to hit western Montana?  I was wrong.  It was careless of me, I know, but I didn't look closely enough at the model projections for winds aloft.  It's not a smoke loop.  It's not really a loop at all. It is, I kid you not, a smoke spiral.   A smoke spiral!  The smoke from northern California, Oregon, Washington, Canada, Montana and Idaho is joining together to swirl around over our heads in a hideous brown spiral of misery and despair.

This is, to put it lightly, bad.  It is so bad.  I mean, it's amazing, but it's also bad.  Here, I made a loop for you: http://col.st/cZP4n

All of the smoke that we are generating, that Idaho is generating, that Oregon and Washington are generating and northern California and southern British Columbia are generating, is getting sucked into the Smoke Spiral.  The amount of overhead smoke is going to keep growing as long as this sucker stays in one place, and I don't see it making any significant movement or changes in the next 24 hours.

Now, some of that may be exaggeration.  I must admit that not ALL of our smoke is ending up in the smoke spiral.  This is because a significant amount of our smoke can't break out of our valleys.  High pressure is preventing any significant plume formation, and some valleys, such as Seeley Lake, were still under an inversion at 4:00 p.m.  This has resulted in continued Hazardous air quality in the Seeley-Swan which is, I think, worse than contributing to the Smoke Spiral.

If you look closely at the satellite loop I linked to, you can see a giant blob of smoke from the Liberty, Rice Ridge, Park Creek and Alice Creek fires just parked over parts of Missoula, Powell and Lewis & Clark counties.  Smoke is swirling overhead, but the local smoke is just sitting there.  This resulted in Hazardous air quality in Seeley Lake, the Swan Valley, the Potomac Valley, Arlee and Clearwater Junction today.  Condon and the Holland Lake area have recently improved to Very Unhealthy air quality.  The inversion in Seeley Lake is finally breaking, so there may be a couple hours of less terrible air quality this evening, but I do not anticipate anything better than Very Unhealthy.  Arlee improved to Very Unhealthy at 4:00 p.m.  The Potomac Valley is currently improving to Very Unhealthy.  Clearwater Junction still has Hazardous air quality.

It's looking like the Lolo Peak Fire and Hidden Fire both made enough of a plume to send smoke toward the Bitterroot.  Conditions in Lolo have been Very Unhealthy all day, and I imagine Florence has been either Very Unhealthy or Hazardous all day.

We've seen incredibly stable (and rotten) conditions in Missoula and Frenchtown today.  Air quality has been Unhealthy with hardly any variation in particulate concentrations.  Rock Creek finally succumbed to the smoke onslaught and has had Unhealthy air quality since about 3:00 p.m.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

The relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.  Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700. 

There are no surface breezes of note and the high pressure ridge is still parked squarely overhead, so I do not expect any significant improvements this evening.  Tomorrow morning we will wake up to widespread smoke impacts and pooled smoke near active fires.  Florence, Lolo, Arlee and Seeley Lake are likely to have Hazardous air quality.  The rest of us will likely have, at minimum, Unhealthy air quality.

The surface and transport breezes (weak though they may be) will be easterly tomorrow, which will keep smoke trapped in western Montana and part of the Smoke Spiral.

The Smoke Spiral is going to continue picking up smoke and getting thicker and more horrible as long as it is overhead.  I will not be at all surprised if tomorrow isn't a lot worse than today.  The thick overhead smoke combined with the high pressure ridge and dense smoke trapped in valleys will create a long delay for inversion break.  The sun has to be able to pierce through all of the smoke to heat up the ground before inversions can break, and it won't be able to do so until it is pretty high overhead. (And then, of course, the high pressure ridge will resist the smoke lifting from the valley floor.  We don't much care for high pressure ridges.  They're kind of jerks.)  Larger valleys may see inversions break around noon, but it might be pretty late in the day before inversions break in narrow, smoke-choked valleys.

Please take care of yourselves and stay out of the smoke as much as possible.  Climate Smart Missoula has some helpful information about how to protect yourself from wildfire smoke: http://www.missoulaclimate.org/wildfire-smoke.html

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

The smoke has slowed fire growth, but we're still seeing activity on our local fires:

September 6, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

This is a crazy amount of smoke, but if you squint you can pick out some individual plumes.  I didn't entirely label this via guessing and instinct.

September 6, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

That's no blob!  What I previously described as a smoke blob or smoke loop is, in fact a smoke spiral!  A horrible, horrible smoke spiral that's parked over Idaho.  Also, for the meteorology nerds, that's also where the high pressure is centered.  Winds aloft are being forced around the center in a clockwise pattern and are forming a spiral (or gyro, if you will).  Low pressure systems, in contrast, create a counter-clockwise circular motion, such as what you're seeing if you look at Irma in the Atlantic.  There doesn't tend to be much cloud cover over a high pressure system, so we don't notice the clockwise motion as easily.  Here, we have smoke helpfully illustrating the wind movement.*  Science!

September 6, 2017 afternoon zoomed out satellite photo

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

*Full disclosure: I asked a retired air quality meteorologist about some of this.  Thanks, Dad!

UPDATE: September 6, 10:30 a.m.

It's bad out there today.  We are still under a massive amount of smoke from the Pacific Northwest (PNW) and Canada, which is causing widespread smoke impacts across the county.  Air quality is ranging from the upper edge of Unhealthy all the way to Hazardous across most of Missoula County.  Our one happy outlier is Rock Creek, which has the best air this morning (Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups at 9:00 a.m.), but they are likely to see deteriorating conditions later this morning.

While the air is scummy for all of us, it is worse for folks near active fires.  Smoke from the Rice Ridge has been filling the Seeley Lake valley all night, and they are on track for the worst day of the wildfire season to date.  Yesterday they had a few hours of improvement, but with the strong high pressure ridge keeping a lid on the valley, and a strong inversion preventing any lift, smoke will be slow to leave the area this afternoon.   The inversion is likely to break around noon today, and while conditions will improve, I don't expect the air to suddenly become breathable.  The monitor in Seeley Lake has been pegging out over 1,000 ug/m3 since 7:00 a.m.  (Our monitor cannot record values over 1,000 ug/m3, and will instead report 994.6 ug/m3 when we've exceeded 1,000.  Also, I've just learned that we won't be able to reprogram the monitor, which means we won't know how bad it's getting.  Of course, the question is largely academic.  We already know the smoke levels are incredibly hazardous.)

Conditions are also Hazardous in Arlee, and Clearwater Junction and likely Hazardous in Florence (our monitor is down, but I heard an eye witness report of lousy visibility).  We are seeing Very Unhealthy air quality in Lolo and the Swan Valley. 

Air quality is Unhealthy everywhere else.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

We are unlikely to see any significant improvement today.  The high pressure ridge is creating a very stable atmosphere and slowing inversion break.  The depressing fact of the matter is that we may see deteriorating air quality later this morning when the inversions break and overhead local smoke mixes down into the valleys.  Then, conditions may deteriorate even further when overhead PNW smoke mixes down into our breathing space later this afternoon.  Right now, we're just dealing with locally produced smoke near active fires and the same ground level smoke that we had when we went to bed last night.  There's a lot more smoke up there, and it's looking like it might make it down to ground level around mid-to-late afternoon.

What I'm saying is, this might not be a good day for that long run.  Or any running, really.  Maybe stay inside and hug your air filter.

Also, take care of each other.  A friend of mine coined the term "smangry" (smoke + angry) to describe how the smoke is creating some short fuses and general unhappiness for everyone.  I think we're all getting a bit smangry.  Everyone is suffering from the smoke, and with no end in sight, it is only going to get worse.  But remember, we're in this together.  And hey, the shared suffering means we all have a universal small talk topic.  No more awkward silences!

Today is a good day to pay attention to your health and respect how the cumulative exposure to the smoke may be wearing your system down.  And don't neglect your mental health.  The relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.  Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700. 

We recommend  everyone get a  HEPA air filter to create a clean space in their home.  I've attached the HEPA handout to this email.

Also, we field a lot of questions about respirators. 

The short answer: The Health Department does not recommend the use of a respirator for wildfire smoke because not everyone is healthy enough to use one.  Respirators can reduce your exposure to the smoke, but they also put a barrier in front of your face that makes it harder to breathe, which is dangerous for folks with heart or lung disease.  If you are interested in using a respirator (NIOSH rated N-95) check with your health care provider to make sure you are healthy enough to use one, and then only use one if it fits correctly.  Note that bandanas, surgeon masks, dust masks, etc. will not protect you from the smoke. 

The detailed answer:

 There are several problems with masks.  First, to be effective, a mask needs to be a respirator that is rated to filter out particulate (NIOSH-rated N-95), and it must have a good fit to the face.  Facial hair prevents a good fit and would cause a respirator to lose effectiveness.

Because there is some confusion about respirators, folks will sometimes use a face covering (bandana/dust mask/surgeon mask/etc.) that is not protective against the fine particulate in smoke.  These same people will then go out and about pursuing their normal activities, thinking they're protected, but actually just exposing themselves to potentially harmful levels of pollution.

We do not recommend people who suffer from asthma, COPD, a heart condition or other health conditions use respirators because it creates a barrier in front of their face that they will then have to pull air through, and that can create a harmful situation on its own.

It is generally considered a better solution for a person with heart or lung disease to instead have access to a clean air shelter (which can be created with a HEPA room air filter).  During a smoke event, it is a good idea for everyone to lower their activity levels and seek cleaner air.  

While using a respirator is a personal choice, and some may benefit from it if they are in good health and have no choice but to be outside in the smoke, we do not promote the use of respirators to the general public.  If someone insists they need a respirator, they should speak with their health care provider to confirm they are healthy enough to use a respirator, and only get one on their health care provider’s recommendation.

Wildfire air quality update: come for the smoke jokes, stay for the health lecture.

The fires have been quieter thanks to the massive amount of overhead smoke, but we are still seeing activity around the area.

September 6, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

There's too much smoke to effectively pick out our local plumes.  You can see we're still underneath the PNW Smoke Loop o' Suffering.  We will continue to see this smoke through Thursday.

September 6, 2017 morning zoomed out satellite photo

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: September 6, 7:00 a.m.

As of 7 a.m Wednesday, air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Rock Creek.  Air quality is Unhealthy in Misosula, Frenchtown, the Potomac Valley, and the Swan Valley.  Air quality is Very Unhealthy in Lolo. Air quality is Hazardous in Seeley Lake and Arlee. Air quality in Florence is likely Very Unhealthy or Hazardous (our monitor is currently down.)

Conditions may deteriorate further this morning, and there will still be smoke this afternoon due to a high pressure ridge trapping smoke in our breathing space. 

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Because smoke conditions can change rapidly and vary widely based on location, wind, fire flare ups and proximity to fires, the department encourages individuals to use visibility as a guideline to help gauge air quality at a given time and place and take appropriate precautions.  If you can’t see 5 miles, the air quality is Unhealthy.  More smoke information is available at http://www.missoulacounty.us/airquality/.  

For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, access Montana’s “Today’s Air” web site. 


 

UPDATE: September 5, 6:30 p.m.

We've had fluctuating air quality today and uncooperative transport winds.  We were expecting easterly transport breezes, which would have sent plumes of smoke toward western  Montana and Idaho.  Instead, we've seen sluggish plume movement and smoke piling up over our local valleys.  While a fair bit of that smoke has remained overhead due to some convective lift, it isn't really going anywhere. This could spell trouble later tonight when the smoke comes back down to ground level and infiltrates our breathing space.

Also, I hope you weren't expecting blue sky today.  If you look up, there is only smoke.  The Pacific Northwest Smoke Loop still looks more like the Pacific Northwest Smoke Blob on the satellite, but don't be fooled.  It is looping over western Montana, and so far we've only had to deal with its outer edge. There is some really thick overhead smoke headed our way.  If we're extra lucky, the thickest smoke won't arrive until after atmospheric mixing slows down (around 7:00 or 8:00 p.m.), in which case it will largely remain high overhead.  However, there is a band of extra thick smoke that was about two hours away at 4:30 p.m.  If that smoke land on us, conditions will rapidly deteriorate.

Want to know how we know this smoke season is awful (other than you know, going outside and trying to breathe)?  The smoke is gumming up our monitors something awful.  We've been repeatedly losing touch with the Missoula monitor, and the Florence monitor is being taken off-line for the time being because its little brain is fried.  The Missoula monitor should be back up and running soon (hopefully tonight), and it sounds like the Montana Department of Environmental Quality is making the rounds throughout western Montana to give all the state-owned monitors bit of extra love.

While a lot of folks had a smoky day, the Potomac Valley and Rock Creek both kept their generally Moderate air quality until late this afternoon.  Conditions in both of those areas are now generally Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  Frenchtown improved to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups for a bit this afternoon, but they are starting to see deteriorating air quality have returned to Unhealthy air quality. Air quality in Clearwater Junction is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups but is likely to deteriorate this evening.  Missoula looks to be on the edge between Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups and Unhealthy at the moment.  We'll know more when the monitor starts talking to us again (I promise we didn't call it any names).   Lolo is also on the edge between Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups and Unhealthy.  The air quality is Unhealthy in Arlee, the Swan Valley and Seeley Lake.

Conditions are likely to continue deteriorating this evening as local smoke becomes trapped near the valley floor and overhead Pacific Northwest smoke mixes down.

Tomorrow will likely be worse than today.  We will be starting with more overhead smoke from the Pacific Northwest than we saw this morning, and the high pressure ridge will be better established.  This means smoke will be even less able to leave the area than it was today.  Toss in the fact that we are looking at  slow transport winds, strong inversions and almost non-existent surface breezes, and you can look forward to some soupy air.

In the morning we can expect widespread haze and likely also widespread Unhealthy air quality.  There will be thick, pooled smoke near active fires.  Florence, Lolo and Arlee are likely to see Very Unhealthy to Hazardous air quality.  Seeley Lake will have Hazardous air quality.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

The relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.  Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700.

While the smoke is terrible, it does have a side benefit of calming down the fires (a bit).  The thick smoke cover helps to cool temperatures over the fires and fire activity today was not as intense as it was over the weekend.  However, we are still seeing continued fire growth and smoke production across the region.

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

The fires were quieter than they have been, but still active:

September 5, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

You can still pick out some local plumes underneath the Pacific Northwest smoke.  The plumes were very sluggish today.

September 5, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

Behold the Pacific Northwest Smoke Loop!  We may see some significant smoke impacts from this smoke for the next couple days.

September 5, 2017 afternoon zoomed out satellite photo

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: September 5, 10:30 a.m.

Yesterday was a doozy, wasn't it?  The smoke in Missoula hit Hazardous levels multiple times, providing us with a taste of what the folks in Seeley Lake and Florence have been living in.  The good news (for those of us who are not immediately adjacent to fires) is that it was a temporary situation.  We had the unfortunate coming together of multiple factors: explosive fire growth that led to increased local smoke production, Pacific Northwest smoke headed straight for us, and a cold front sliding down from Alberta that forced smoke we'd sent to eastern Montana back on top of us.  It was a mess.

Fortunately, the worst of that doubled up smoke has started to slide south into Idaho and Wyoming.  We still have some thick smoke trapped in valleys, but as inversions break, larger valleys should start seeing fewer Very Unhealthy or Hazardous smoke episodes (for now).

Of course, there is still a lot of smoke out there.  We are going to be seeing easterly transport breezes today, which means Lolo Peak Fire smoke should be headed to Idaho, and the Bitterroot may get a break from Idaho smoke. (They will instead get smoke from the Meyers Fire and Sapphire Complex.  I don't really ever have good news for the Bitterroot.)  Rice Ridge and Liberty smoke will be headed toward western Montana.  The primary smoke feature for most of us will be smoke from the Pacific Northwest (PNW).  The winds aloft are creating a smoke loop that is pulling smoke from Oregon and northern California up through Washington and parts of Canada and then dropping it back down over western Montana.  This pattern is going to continue for at least a couple days, which means we will be seeing a lot of smoke overhead.

And of course, it wouldn't be a properly dismal smoke report if there wasn't high pressure in the mix.  We will be under a high pressure ridge for the next several days, which means the smoke that pours into valleys from nearby fires will have a harder time breaking out, and PNW smoke that mixes down in the afternoons will outlive its welcome.  The PNW smoke is kind of like fish.  It gets worse the longer it hangs around.  The big question will be if this becomes the High Pressure Ridge of Doom 2017.  The potential is there.  In 2015, the original High Pressure Ridge of Doom kept us socked in for multiple days with no relief from the smoke for well over 100 hours.  I'll be keeping an eye on it.

You may have noticed by now that wildfire smoke can be flashy and weird.  Some valleys will be drowning in smoke while the next one over is having a relatively pleasant day.  That's what we're seeing this morning in Missoula County.  While most of us woke up to smoky conditions, the folks in the Potomac Valley and Rock Creek were enjoying Moderate air quality.  There is plenty of smoke overhead, so conditions are likely to deteriorate for the Potomac and Rock Creek later this afternoon, but it must have been lovely to have breathable air this morning.

The rest of us were not nearly so fortunate.  Florence had Hazardous air quality for quite some time, but it has improved to Very Unhealthy.  Frenchtown and Arlee started the day with Very Unhealthy air quality (Frenchtown has improved to Unhealthy), and the air was Unhealthy in Missoula, Lolo, Clearwater Junction, the Holland Lake area, and the Swan Valley.  Conditions are Hazardous again in Seeley Lake, and it looks like we've exceeded our monitor's ability to read the smoke.  Again.  Later this week we should have the monitor reprogrammed to start picking up the values over 1,000 ug/m3.  (For those who are curious, Missoula topped out under 500 ug/m3 yesterday.)

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

Conditions in Seeley Lake and Florence should improve somewhat after the inversions break in those valleys (around noon), but with high pressure building and the PNW smoke loop looming overhead, no one is likely to see any significant smoke clearing. 

Those of us who are looking at a lot of overhead local smoke will continue to see deteriorating air quality this morning, and potentially some improvement in the afternoon when convection tries to lift the smoke off the valley floor.  Unfortunately, with high pressure setting up and overhead PNW smoke coming to call, there's a good chance that we won't see very noticeable improvement.  Our smoke may lift up, but PNW smoke will come down.  If we are super lucky, the PNW smoke will only create added haze.  There's some pretty thick smoke headed our way, though, so there's a good chance "added haze" will actually be "chewable air."

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

The worst of the smoke has moved south, and now we can pick up local plumes that are filling adjacent valleys.

September 5, 2017 morning satellite photo

Oh look, it's the PNW Smoke Loop.  It looks more like the PNW smoke blob here, but the smoke from Oregon and northern California is being pulled up into Washington and Canada and then looping around back toward western Montana. Some of that smoke headed toward us is really thick.  If it hits us, air quality will plummet.

September 5, 2017 morning zoomed out photo


 

UPDATE: September 4, 5 p.m.

For those who may not have known, it was a beautiful sunny day with very few clouds.  That was all smoke in the air.  Depending on location and elevation, there was smoke going east, west and south.  If you want to see today’s  interesting smoke flows, click on the link http://weather.cod.edu/satrad/exper/?parms=pacnorthwest-02-24-0 and hit play on the bar located at the bottom of the window.  With all the wind induced turbulence at least there was good mixing height for the smoke.

As of 4:00 PM on Monday air quality was Very Unhealthy in Rainy Lake and Arlee.  Arlee was trending towards hazardous air quality.  With three fires almost directly to the east of Arlee, severe smoke impacts in Arlee tonight are possible.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

Air quality was Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Clearwater, Rock Creek and the Potomac.  Air quality was Unhealthy in Missoula, Frenchtown, Seeley Lake, Florence and Lolo.

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

Air quality will be variable through tonight with, based on my guess, the best spots improving to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  Due to proximity to fires, periods of Hazardous air quality are possible in many parts of the county tonight or early tomorrow.  By Tuesday morning, Hazardous air quality is likely in Seeley Lake, Lolo, Florence, and Arlee.  Check Montana’s Todays Air for the most current air quality readings.  Missoula may also see Hazardous air quality tonight or by morning.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

Expect east winds to continue through Tuesday followed by a high pressure ridge latter in the week which will continue to trap smoke near the valley floors where people breath.  While parts of Montana are getting a couple days break from the smoke, western Montana can expect to see continued smoke impacts tonight and further into the week.  As mentioned Sunday, western Montana has all the smoke trapped between a high pressure ridge to the west and the cold front to the east.

Like this morning, the smoke was too thick to see many individual fire plumes in the satellite images of Montana.  The satellite image below shows how the smoke has been penned into western Montana today and we can expect a similar situation tonight and Tuesday.  Those sheep dogs mentioned Sunday morning are doing an excellent job at keeping the smoke sheep penned into western Montana.  The high pressure ridge which starts around Wednesday will not give us a break from the smoke.

Montana Wildfire Smoke September 4, 2017 

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

 

UPDATE: September 4, 10:00 a.m.

This is one of those unusual days where we send our smoke to Idaho and Washington.  This is more than fair.  Unfortunately there appears to be more smoke to replace the smoke we are sending to the west.  With the strong east winds and turbulence, expect smoke to persist with varying intensity through the day.  The Rice Ridge Fire doubled in size Sunday and that smoke could be affecting the Potomac and Missoula Valleys.  By Wednesday, a high pressure ridge with more typical south west winds is in the forecast.

At 10:00 a.m. on Monday air quality is Hazardous in Florence, Lolo and the Potomac. 

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

At 10:00 on Monday, air quality was Very Unhealthy in Missoula, Frenchtown, Seeley Lake, and Rainy Lake.  Air quality was Unhealthy in Rock Creek and Arlee.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

In this overview satellite image you can see the cold front coming down from Canada to clear out the smoke in northeastern Montana.  Some of the smoke is above the ground level and so not impacting the breathing space where people live (Helena and Bozeman).  In Missoula we have smoke aloft and smoke on the valley floors.

Wildfire Smoke September 4, 2017 

In the close up satellite image the smoke is so thick today it is impossible to pick out individual smoke plumes.  With the massive amounts of wildfire smoke generated in the area, a high pressure ridge to our west and east winds pushing smoke back into western Montana, we can expect smoky conditions to persist but vary a bit today in Missoula County.

Montana Wildfire Smoke September 4, 2017 

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

I know this is getting repetitive, but the heat detection maps show how far the fires expanded on Sunday.  Rice Ridge grew 48,000 acres, Meyers added 16,000 acres, Liberty added 4,500 acres and the Lolo Peak grew by 2,700 acres.  The east winds today could totally change the fire expansion patterns/directions we have seen the last couple of day. 

Fire Activity Montana September 4, 2017

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

 

UPDATE: September 4, 8:00 a.m.

As of 8 a.m Monday, air quality is Hazardous in Missoula, Seeley Lake, Florence and the Potomac.  Air quality varies between Unhealthy and Very Unhealthy in the rest of Missoula County.

Expect conditions to vary throughout the day with smoky conditions to persist.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

 

UPDATE: September 3, 5:00 p.m.

As of 5 p.m. Sunday, air quality is Unhealthy in Missoula, Frenchtown, Clearwater, Rock Creek, Florence, Lolo, Arlee and the Potomac.  Air Quality is Very Unhealthy in Seeley Lake and Rainy Lake.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

Sunday gave us another day of extreme fire behavior through the Pacific Northwest.  The satellite image below with smoke plumes and fire detection overlays appeared even more active than the image from Saturday.  Winds aloft transported smoke from Oregon and Washington into Missoula County; so any vertical mixing/dispersing we got today just mixed smoke with smoke.  Local smoke plumes traveled in a easterly flow today, so if a fire was to your west, you were probably breathing smoke from that fire plus the out of state smoke.

Tonight and Monday we have a high pressure ridge to the west and a cold front to our east.  This is not good.  East winds should clear the smoke out of eastern Montana into western Montana but the high pressure ridge to the west will not let the winds or smoke go much further than western Montana.  With more locally produced smoke, expect unhealthy air quality or worse throughout Missoula County on Monday.  There may be some pockets of Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups air quality in places tonight or early tomorrow.  This is where I hope I am wrong and somehow the complicated air flows do disperse some of the smoke out of the county and western Montana.

Expect significant smoke impacts in communities down drainage or down wind of active fires tonight.  Lolo and Florence may see Hazardous air by morning and Seeley Lake will see Hazardous air tonight.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

In the heat detection satellite image below the very active fires from today are visible in western Montana.

Smoke Fire Overly Montana September 3, 2017 

Smoke from Oregon and Washington wrapped into western Montana today.  Most of Montana had smoke impacts.

Wild Fire Smoke September 3, 2017 

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: September 3, 10:00 a.m.

Saturday was another banner day for fire growth.  Rice Ridge added 12,000 acres and spotted over two ridges to adjacent valleys, Lolo Peak grew by 2,300 acres and the Hogback fire in the Sapphire Complex broke containment and burned 1,200 more acres.  In the fire activity map below, you can see the Rice Ridge growth shown by the expansion of red hot spots.  With the extremely hot and dry conditions, the atmosphere will be unstable today and fire growth potential remains in the red flag category.

Smoke from Oregon, Washington and Idaho have joined the Montana smoke today.  So if you wanted to visit the western states, there is no need because they are coming to us.  With smoke aloft and smoke on the valley floors, do not expect much good air quality in Missoula County today and air quality will most likely worsen as the morning progresses.  Even with the heat and winds, the unstable atmosphere will just mix smoke around and provide very little clearing.

Tonight is when things get really interesting.  East winds are expected tonight through Monday and then a more typical south west wind pattern is expected to kick in around Tuesday or so.  You would think the east winds would clear the smoke out of western Montana, but these winds will probably be more like sheep dogs where western Montana is the sheep pen and smoke is the sheep.  The dogs will herd smoke from the Idaho, Oregon and Washington fires into Montana, then they will swing around to the east and herd the smoke out of eastern Montana back into western Montana.  So yes, there is a potential for several herds of sheep to stop for a while all around Missoula County and western Montana.  Hopefully the sheep dogs will take a break and let some of the smoke leave, but not too optimistic on this.

As of 10 a.m. Sunday, air quality is Moderate in Frenchtown and Potomac and Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Missoula, Rainy Lake and Rock Creek.  Air quality may deteriorate in many parts of Missoula County as the morning progresses.  Even when the inversions break, it will likely just bring smoke aloft down to the valley floors that currently have moderate air quality.

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Air Quality is Unhealthy in Arlee, Lolo and Clearwater Junction and Very Unhealthy in Florence.  Air Quality is Hazardous in Seeley Lake and is expected to go Hazardous in Florence this morning.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

Also, folks who are downwind of active fires may see worsening conditions this afternoon.  The transport winds are from the west today, and that means Rock Creek may see Lolo Peak Fire smoke, Seeley Lake and Greenough may see Liberty and Black Fire smoke, the Swan Valley is likely to see smoke from the Thompson Falls fires, and the Bitterroot Valley will see smoke from Idaho.  An emerging fire near Moose Creek has significant growth potential and could impact the Bitterroot Valley in the next few day.

The Inciweb links for Montana fire incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

 

Today’s fire activity map shows the rapid expansion of the fires on Saturday.  Rice Ridge hopped two valleys and the expansion to the east is clear.  East winds in the forecast for tonight and Tuesday are important to Seeley Lake, so hopefully the fires will stay to the east and out of town.  Because of the smoke, fire detection does not see all the small fires that have started and so they may not show up on this map.

Fire Activity September 3, 2017 Montana

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

You can see the Washington and Oregon smoke heading towards Montana today.  All the valleys in Western Montana have smoke in them this morning.

Wildfire Smoke September 3, 2017 

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: September 2, 5:30 p.m.

It is way too hot outside for September.  That is my official analysis for the day. 

Oh, you wanted to know about smoke?  Well ok then.  Let's talk about smoke.  There's a lot of smoke.  I mean, holy cats, you guys.  If you can't wait and need to see it, scroll down, look at some photos and then come right back up.   We are in a happy little bubble of clear skies in Missoula and I was not prepared for that satellite photo.

Fortunately for those of us upwind of smoke plumes, the crazy too hot afternoon temperatures have done wonders in helping lift the smoke up and out of our breathing space.  We've seen nice convective lift around the county.  The Seeley and Swan valleys in particular have seen impressive smoke clearing.  Seeley Lake's smoke was reduced by more than 99 percent at 4:00 p.m. compared to this morning.  That's kind of amazing. 

Conditions are generally Good to Moderate in the Seeley and Swan valleys.  We're seeing Moderate air quality in Frenchtown, Arlee and the Potomac Valley.

The high pressure ridge has been winning in the Missoula Valley, but there are several more hours before temperatures start cooling, and it's already starting to look better out there than the monitors suggest.  At 5:00 p.m., conditions were Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Missoula, Rock Creek, Lolo and Florence.  Rock Creek has started to see some Lolo Peak Fire smoke descend on top of them, and conditions may become Unhealthy later this evening.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

The unfortunate side effect of all the nice warm temperatures and brisk breezes that could help smoke clear out of the valleys this afternoon is some significant fire activity.  The fires have been out from under cloud and smoke cover for a couple days now, and we're starting to see more activity than we did earlier this week.  Even the Sunrise Fire, which has been relatively quiet lately, woke up and is sending smoke toward the Ninemile.  (Just in time for the Alberton monitor to have been reassigned to another part of the state.  Still, the odds are currently against that section of I-90 being too swamped with smoke in the immediate future, and we have been positively spoiled with an abundance of monitors.  Now that other parts of the state are on fire it's only right to share.) There is massive plume production today, and will likely see continued plume growth into the evening hours.  Areas downwind of active fires may see significant smoke impacts this evening, starting with Rock Creek.

While I'm optimistic about the smoke's ability to clear out today, I'm not expecting the same fortune tomorrow.  Afternoon temperatures will be really warm again, and there will likely be pretty decent surface breezes, but the high pressure ridge will be into its second day, and atmospheric mixing will likely be kept to a minimum.  The high pressure ridge will also slow down inversion breakout, which means areas with pooled smoke will be stuck with it for longer than they would without the high pressure sitting over head.  The inversions are already likely to be pretty strong tonight, and the high pressure will make them worse.  We're looking at calm winds, clear sky and cool temperatures.  This means I'm expecting a lot of smoke build up in valleys near active fires.

Areas downwind of active fires may have hazy skies and some smoke impacts in the morning (Rock Creek, the Swan Valley, Greenough), and areas near active fires will see significant smoke pooling (Lolo, Florence, Seeley Lake and Arlee).  Areas fire-adjacent will see a lot of overhead smoke that will come down once the inversions break (Missoula, Frenchtown, the Potomac Valley, the Swan Valley, and really everywhere else).

I'm anticipating Unhealthy to Very Unhealthy conditions in Florence and Lolo in the morning.  There is a lot of Idaho smoke headed to the Bitterroot this evening, and that may mean Florence starts at an even greater disadvantage than they would otherwise.  It is possible that Florence and Lolo will see an hour or two of Hazardous air quality

Conditions in Seeley Lake will be Hazardous in the morning.  And, with high pressure sitting overhead, it may not have as effective of a clearing as we saw this afternoon.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendations

Transport breezes will be from the west again tomorrow afternoon, so the same folks who are downwind of active fires today will be downwind of active fires tomorrow.  The winds aloft of the Washington fires will be westerly, so we may see some Washington smoke headed our way.  And, because it's only fair to invite everyone to the block party, the winds aloft over the Oregon fires will be southwesterly, which has the potential to bring Oregon smoke back into our breathing space.

Tomorrow will be yet another very active fire day.  We will be under a Red Flag Warning starting noon on Sunday and lasting until 9:00 p.m. Monday.  Looking farther ahead, all we see is wind and sun.  I know you already know this, but we are in this fire season for the long haul.  Resources are already stretched thin, and they will only get thinner as the weeks go on.  This means fires in unpopulated areas will have more opportunities to grow and send smoke our way.  There is a slight chance for showers and thunderstorms at the end of next week, but it is too far out to get your hopes up for precipitation.

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

Remember how yesterday I gave you a satellite loop full of terrifying flickering red dots?  This one is worse: http://col.st/t6svb

All of those little red dots are heat signatures that can be detected from space.  Down below you'll see a photo in which I made a composite photo of the satellite imagery and the heat detects.  It's both snazzy and frightening.

This one doesn't flicker, but it's not much better, you guys:

September 2, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

Missoula is in a happy little pocket of cleanish air.  But dang that is a lot of smoke.  Tomorrow could get pretty hairy.

September 2, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

It doesn't get better when you zoom out.  It gets worse.  So much worse.

September 2, 2017 afternoon zoomed out satellite photo

And as promised, here are the local fires with the heat detections.  The glowy orange and red dots are not flames.  It's just how the heat is portrayed.  You know, in the most terrifying way possible, as only befits a crazy wildfire year.  NOAA clearly has our backs.

September 2, 2017 afternoon satellite with heat detections

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: September 2, 10:30 a.m.

As we head into this weekend and high pressure sets up over the area, take a moment to remember yesterday.  Wasn't that nice?  Did you go outside?  Take some deep breaths?  Maybe air out your house?  Did you forget we're surrounded by fires?

This is your reality check.  The fires are still burning and smoke is everywhere.

We saw pooled smoke near the Lolo Peak and Rice Ridge fires this morning, and there is a lot of smoke hanging overhead near active fires.  Conditions in Florence were Hazardous but have improved to Unhealthy.  Seeley Lake is off the charts, again.  The smoke in Seeley Lake was so thick this morning that our monitor could not measure it properly until it cleared back down to less than 1,000 ug/m3.  Conditions in Seeley Lake are once again (beyond) Hazardous this morning.  This is the 28th morning of Hazardous air quality in Seeley Lake since August 1st.  Their last non-Hazardous morning was more than two weeks ago.

The pooled smoke should lift up when inversions break, likely around noon.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

The relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.  Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700. 

Lolo has been seeing some of the Lolo Peak Fire smoke, and at 8 a.m. conditions were Unhealthy.  They improved to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups at 9:00 a.m.  Lolo will likely continue to see fluctuating air quality this morning.

The Arlee area is seeing Unhealthy air quality due to smoke from the Liberty Fire (and also probably the Black Fire). Conditions are also Unhealthy in Clearwater Junction, which is seeing smoke from a variety of sources.  The Rice Ridge Fire has been making its way southeast down the Cottonwood drainage, and that is going to mean more smoke in the Highway 200 corridor and Clearwater Junction in the mornings.  Clearwater Junction is also seeing smoke from the Liberty (and probably also Black) Fire.

The Swan Valley is in trouble this morning.  Conditions were generally Moderate to start, but there is a lot of Rice Ridge smoke just hanging over the valley, and with the inversions weakening, its causing air quality to plummet.  Air quality has already deteriorated to Unhealthy in Condon and the Holland Lake area, and there's a very good chance it will hit Very Unhealthy later this morning.  This initial smoke intrusion should improve by the afternoon, but then it's looking like Washington and Thompson Falls smoke will be ready to fill the gap.  Also, Thompson Falls is surrounded by fires.  Typically, we don't see smoke from that area in Missoula, but the northern part of the county (i.e. the Swan Valley) will see smoke from those fires as long as transport breezes are out of the west.

Missoula woke up to generally Moderate air, but if you looked up near the mountains you could see the thick brown smudgy Lolo Peak Fire smoke lurking over our heads.  That smoke is already starting to mix down, and conditions in Missoula have started to deteriorate.  We are currently seeing Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups air quality and it may become Unhealthy before the morning ends.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Frenchtown and Alberton are enjoying Moderate air quality this morning.  Their main concern will be any overhead smoke from far away fires.  And it's just their luck that we have some overhead smoke from far away fires on tap.  The Jolly Mountain Fire in Washington was really active yesterday, and it's sending a tendril of smoke to the Frenchtown area to say hi.  That smoke may mix down later today.

While high pressure is starting to set up, it's very possible that this afternoon's warm temperatures and (potentially) breezy conditions will be able to overcome the high pressure's influence.  Conditions will likely deteriorate this morning, but we may see improvement in the afternoon.  There is some Washington smoke headed our direction, but it's not yet thick enough to suggest much more than an increased afternoon haze effect.  Tomorrow, however, the high pressure will be more established, and we are unlikely to see the same kind of afternoon improvement that we may see today.

Also, folks who are downwind of active fires may see worsening conditions this afternoon.  The transport winds are from the west today, and that means Rock Creek may see Lolo Peak Fire smoke, Seeley Lake and Greenough may see Liberty and Black Fire smoke, the Swan Valley is likely to see smoke from the Thompson Falls fires, and the Bitterroot Valley will see smoke from Idaho.

We are going to see active fire behavior today, and tomorrow may have critical fire weather conditions.  With the number of new starts in western Montana and the continued growth from established fires, we will be looking at worsening smoke impacts for the foreseeable future. 

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

There was some fire activity last night.  We will see more fire activity today.

September 2, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

You can see thick smoke from the Rice Ridge Fire blanketing the Seeley-Swan.  Smoke from the fires burning near Thompson Falls will likely descend on the Swan Valley later this afternoon.  Lolo Peak Fire smoke is filling the Highway 12 corridor.  The pooled smoke will lift up once inversions break.

September 2, 2017 morning satellite photo

Washington smoke is headed our way, and the Oregon fires have apparently been going full throttle.  We may start to see Oregon smoke in the next few days, but it should stay south of us for now.

September 2, 2017 morning zoomed out satellite photo

 

 


 

UPDATE: September 1, 5:30 p.m.

This has been a nice day.  The sky is blue(ish), the air is clean(ish), and the temperatures is pleasant (hooray!).  We are continuing to benefit from the good valley scouring wind from yesterday, but there is still some smoke in the air that is creating a light haze.  Conditions are Moderate throughout most of Missoula County.  However, areas downwind of active fires are experiencing some smoke impacts.  The westerly transport breezes have delivered Lolo Peak Fire smoke to Rock Creek, where conditions are currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups and may become Unhealthy later this evening.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

The Swan Valley was hit pretty hard by Rice Ridge smoke this morning, and conditions became Very Unhealthy after the inversion broke.  Fortunately, the smoke cleared out pretty quickly, and the Swan Valley currently has Moderate air quality.  The northern end of the Swan Valley is starting to see smoke from those new fires near Thompson Falls, and it looks like the smoke is probably going to impact Condon later tonight.  Conditions in the Condon area may start to deteriorate over the evening hours until the inversion sets up.  The morning will likely bring hazy conditions and a heck of a lot of Rice Ridge smoke lurking overhead waiting for the inversion to break.  I'm not saying the Rice Ridge Fire smoke is the Snidely Whiplash to our lungs' Dudley Do-Right, but does seem to be auditioning for the part.  

Anyway.

Most of Missoula County is dodging plume-driven smoke accumulation this afternoon.  There are a lot of active fires, but most of the smoke is headed straight to the east, and there aren't any fires directly west of the bulk of Missoula County.

That being said, the Liberty and Black fires may deliver smoke to the Greenough area later tonight.  That's right.  The Black Fire.  You didn't know about that one, did you?  The Black Fire started on July 15th and recently took off.  It is now 230 acres and is burning just north of the Liberty Fire.  It will likely be sending smoke to both Placid Lake and Seeley Lake during the day, and Arlee at night.  (And probably also to Placid Lake and Seeley Lake at night, because really, if you're positioned on a ridge top, everything looks like a drainage.)

The fires burning in Idaho are sending smoke to the Bitterroot Valley, which will likely lead to deteriorating conditions this evening.

We're looking at light overnight breezes as well as clear sky, a stable atmosphere and cool temperatures, which will lead to strong morning inversions.  We can expect significant smoke pooling near active fires tonight.  Conditions in Lolo and Florence may become Unhealthy to Very Unhealthy.  Seeley lake will likely have Hazardous air quality in the morning.  There will be smoke overhead in areas near and downwind of active fires.  That smoke will mix down when the inversions break.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

The relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.  Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700. 

Tomorrow is shaping up to be a somewhat typical smoke day (worse in the morning, better in the afternoon), but there may be more accumulation in the afternoon due to a high pressure ridge setting up over the area.  The high pressure will be strengthening throughout the day.  I don't think it will be able to prevent convection from lifting smoke out of the valleys in the afternoon, but it will likely result in more evening accumulation and deteriorating air quality by Sunday.   The high pressure ridge should be gone by Monday, and in its wake we will see easterly breezes over active fires (not really what we're looking for at the Rice Ridge Fire) and probably some Canadian smoke pulled down into Montana by northerly winds aloft.  

Transport winds will be from the west again tomorrow afternoon, so Rock Creek may see more Lolo Peak Fire smoke headed their way, and the Bitterroot Valley will continue to see incoming Idaho smoke.

Quick reminder: transport winds influence local plume direction.  Winds aloft deliver smoke that's generated far away and is at a much higher elevation.

The winds aloft will be shifting between northwesterly and westerly tomorrow, and have the potential to send Washington smoke our way.  The Washington fires have been pretty active this afternoon and they've started creating a haze over eastern Washington.

The winds aloft over the Oregon fires have started to shift and will begin sending Oregon smoke toward central Idaho.  It's looking like the smoke will initially be pushed south of us, but don't be surprised if we see some Oregon smoke before the weekend is over.

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

The fires were plenty active today.  I've made a loop from the GOES 16 satellite for you.  The twinkling red lights are the fires waking up.  You know, just in case you needed more dread in your life.  Here you go! http://col.st/DZG0T

If you prefer your frightening red dots in stationary form, here's the 5:00 p.m. MODIS fire detections.  The darker the dot, the more recent the heat:

September 1, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

Missoula is in one of the rare gaps between plumes, but we're starting to see some overhead smoke from the Lolo Peak fire.  Also, note how the Swan Valley is being hit by smoke from the fires near Thompson Falls and how we've basically buried Rock Creek under Lolo Peak Smoke.  Idaho smoke is pouring into the Bitterroot.

September 1, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

Sometimes putting things into perspective just makes it worse.  That's a lot of fires.

September 1, 2017 afternoon zoomed out satellite photo

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational

 

UPDATE: September 1, 10:00 a.m.

The good news is that aside from smoke pooling so thick in Seeley Lake that our monitor can't read it, the rest of us are having a pretty ok morning.  Conditions were generally Moderate everywhere but Seeley Lake, this morning, but we starting to see PM2.5 concentrations creep up as overhead smoke mixes down.   In Seeley Lake we are once again measuring PM2.5 concentrations that are beyond what we know to be Hazardous.  Our monitor in Seeley Lake does not currently register concentrations above 1,000 ug/m3, which is why we've seen so many 994.6 ug/m3 readings lately.  We will hopefully have the monitor reprogrammed to see the higher concentrations next week.

While Western Montana is out from under out-of-state smoke, there is still overhead smoke near active fires.  Conditions in Missoula, Lolo, the Swan Valley, Clearwater Junction and the Arlee/Evaro area may deteriorate  later this morning when that smoke mixes down.  The Swan Valley is likely to see the most significant deterioration due to the amount of Rice Ridge smoke that's hovering over the inversion layer.  Conditions in Holland Lake and Condon may become Unhealthy or worse when the inversions break.  The Rice Ridge smoke should lift out of the valleys by afternoon.

Currently, air quality is generally Moderate in Missoula, Frenchtown, Lolo, Rock Creek, Alberton, and the Potomac Valley.  Air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Florence, Arlee, Clearwater Junction and the Swan Valley.  Air quality is Hazardous in Seeley Lake.  Conditions in Seeley Lake should improve significantly this afternoon when the inversion breaks.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

The relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.  Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700. 

The real question for us today will be how active the fires become.  Transport breezes will be from the west this afternoon, which should keep most Montana smoke slightly north and south of Missoula (most of the new starts that are actively burning are northwest of Missoula).  However, Seeley Lake may see some Liberty Fire smoke, and Rock Creek and Clinton may see smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire this afternoon.

We are looking at northwesterly winds aloft, but currently there isn't a whole lot of built up smoke to our northwest, which means we may have several hours of blue sky today.  The fires in Washington have been gaining steam, and several of them are already putting out more smoke than the Montana fires this morning.  If the Diamond Creek Fire really gets going, we may see its smoke overhead late tonight.  Washington smoke will continue to be our most significant out-of-state air quality threat, but starting Saturday, Oregon smoke is likely to start edging its way back toward Missoula.

Today could be a pretty decent air quality day for a lot of the county.  Go outside, run around a bit (not too much, mind - your lungs are probably not at 100%), frolic in the sunshine, open your windows, and then run inside quick like a bunny when the smoke comes back!

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/.

Fires around the region were really active last night, and today is looking like another active fire day.

September 1, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

You just thought we were surrounded before.  The new fires have names, and have the potential to send smoke our way if the wind shifts to be from the northwest.

September 1, 2017 morning satellite photo

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

 


 

UPDATE: August 31, 5:00 p.m.

Hot dippity dog!  It turns out that if you badmouth wind predictions enough times, the wind will eventually show up to prove you wrong!  We're seeing legit valley scouring winds this afternoon, and some parts of the county have seen significant air quality improvements. (Other areas - not so much.  Wildfire smoke is flaky, ya'll.)

We do, unfortunately, have a fair bit of smoke high overhead.  (It's not overcast - that's all smoke.)  Also, the fires have started to take off.  After the inversions over the fires broke and they started getting some sunshine, fire activity kicked into high gear.  Also, while we have awesome smoke-scouring wind in the valleys, we also have decidedly less awesome fire-provoking wind on the mountains. 

Conditions are currently Moderate in Clearwater Junction, Arlee, the Potomac Valley and the Swan Valley.  Everywhere else, air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  The interesting thing about that, is we've actually started to see an uptick in ground level pollution.  While we've had some success moving this morning's smoke out of the valleys, we've seen overhead smoke mix down, and that's causing deteriorating air quality.  We will likely continue to see generally Moderate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups conditions this evening.  The bulk of the overhead smoke will have move over to Central Montana pretty soon, and then we'll only need to worry about local smoke. The local smoke will become more of an issue overnight.  (The Bitterroot Valley will continue to see Idaho smoke all evening, which will contribute to deteriorating conditions tonight.)

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

The relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.  Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700. 

Transport breezes tonight are going to be primarily from the southwest, and that means we may see some Idaho smoke from nearby fires heading our way. The winds aloft will start shifting to be more westerly than northwesterly tomorrow, which will start to send Washington smoke directly towards us.  Fortunately, the Washington fires west of us are not currently putting out giant plumes, so we may actually start to have clearer skies tomorrow.  (This is subject to change, depending on what the Washington fires decide to do between now and tomorrow afternoon.)

The winds are going to start calming down after midnight tonight, and that means we may see significant smoke pooling near active fires.  Florence, Lolo and Seeley Lake may have Very Unhealthy or Hazardous air quality.  The rest of us are likely to see ground level haze and a lot of overhead smoke in the morning. The fires are really active today, and while they are currently sending their smoke to pester folks in far away places, a lot of that smoke is going to start rolling downhill when the winds die, and it will be trapped under inversion layer.  There will also be smoke produced underneath the inversion layer, which will add to the pooling smoke.

If the wind gods look favorably upon us, the breezes in the valleys will be strong enough to prevent too much pooling, but I don't think we're that lucky.  We will have clear skies, cool temperatures and winds that will be at most 5 or 6 miles per hour on the valley floor.  There will likely be a strong inversion and a lot of smoke in the morning.

Tomorrow will be a fairly typical smoke day - worsening conditions in the morning, with the potential of clearing in the afternoon due to convection and decent winds at higher elevations.

Also, you know what's been missing from these  updates?  New and exciting fires!  There were no fewer than 30(!!!) new starts in Montana yesterday thanks to the passing thunderstorms.  A lot of those starts are west and northwest of us.  Currently, you can see a whole bunch of brand new little plumes stretching across western Montana.  If we're super crazy lucky, they won't any of them become giant fires.  But holy cow there are a lot of them.

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/.

This fire detection map is from 3:00 p.m.  Plenty of activity from our local fires, and based on the plumes they're putting out now, they're more active than this suggests.

August 31, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

The fires are really starting to pick up in activity and pull together plumes.  Also, new fires!  We're finally getting out from under out-of-state smoke, but we're making plenty of our own smoke to fill the gap.

August 31, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

Almost all of those little horizontal stripes of smoke to the west and northwest of us are from fires.

August 31, 2017 afternoon zoomed out satellite photo

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: August 31, 10:00 a.m.

Depending on where you were this morning, you either had semi-decent air or terrible air. 

We are currently out from under the worst of the out-of-state smoke, and that has allowed some blue sky this morning.  It's still a grayish blue, because you know, smoke, but there's a bit more sky than we've seen for a while.

A lot of the smoke that had built up in Missoula, Frenchtown, Alberton and Rock Creek moved off over night, and conditions were Moderate at these locations this morning.  However, there is smoke from local fires overhead, and it is starting to mix down and cause conditions to deteriorate. Missoula is likely to see the worst impacts from local overhead smoke due to our proximity to the Lolo Peak Fire.  We saw a big jump between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.  Air quality in Missoula is currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

The relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.  Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700. 

The Liberty Fire is sending smoke to Arlee and Clearwater Junction, and conditions are Unhealthy in these locations.  Also, because the Liberty Fire apparently wants to live forever and was offended when folks stopped paying a lot of attention to it, it is now sending an honest-to-goodness plume across the sky.  Most fires are content to let their smoke linger in valleys in the morning, but the Liberty Fire has greater ambitions.

Lolo Peak Fire smoke is currently pooled in the Bitterroot Valley, and is causing Unhealthy conditions in Lolo and Florence.  These areas may improve once the inversion breaks.

The Rice Ridge Fire is sending a lot of smoke to the Swan Valley.  Conditions in Condon and the Holland Lake area were Unhealthy.  They are likely to continue to see smoke through the morning.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

The Rice Ridge Fire is once again causing incredibly bad air quality in Seeley Lake.  Conditions in Seeley Lake are Hazardous this morning, with the Nowcast PM2.5 concentration up near 800 ug/m3.  I want to put this in perspective for you.  Air quality is Good when the NowCast PM2.5 concentration is less than 12 ug/m3.  It starts to get Unhealthy at 55 ug/m3.  Very Unhealthy kicks in at 150 ug/m3, and we know it to be Hazardous at 250 ug/m3.  We were all miserable in Missoula yesterday, and tired of the smoke.  Our absolute highest NowCast of the day was 93.3 ug/m3.  Seeley Lake topped out at 955.6 ug/m3.  Think on that a bit.  It was bad in Missoula.  It was 10 times worse in Seeley Lake, and they've been seeing numbers like this on a near daily basis for the past month.  Particulate pollution has a linear relationship with health effects. The more particulate you have, the more health effects you see.  There is not threshold of effect with particulate matter.  I don't want us to reach a point where we shrug off the amount of smoke that is piling up in Seeley Lake.  It's not a situation of "oh well, it's always Hazardous there."  The folks in Seeley Lake are seeing smoke like we've never seen before, and a lot of them are suffering.  We should not become numb to the numbers.

End of lecture.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

Seeley Lake should see improvement once the inversion breaks (probably around noon).

There is a cold front headed our way this afternoon, and it has the potential to provide some relief from smoke that is trapped in our valleys.  We are looking at some pretty strong northwest breezes this afternoon that have the potential the scour smoke from our breathing space.  Unfortunately, the flow aloft will also be from the northwest, and there is quite a bit of smoke up there, which may come to pay us a visit.  It is depressingly possible that we will see some breathable air that is immediately replaced by smoke from out of state.  Also, I'm not convinced all of predicted wind will reach ground level in the valleys.  A lot of it may be confined to higher elevations, which would limit the amount of clearing we see down in our breathing space. Still, now that the high pressure has moved off, there is the possibility of some convective lift that would elevate the smoke to where the wind is and let it blow away.

I'm hopeful.  Maybe not optimistic, but definitely hopeful.

We are still under a Red Flag Warning, and there is likely to be some very active fire behavior today.  This means we will likely see more local smoke production, which would impact air quality by tomorrow morning.

Transport winds will be from the west, which will send Lolo Peak smoke toward Rock Creek and Liberty smoke toward Greenough and Seeley Lake.

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/.

You can see the crazy thick Rice Ridge smoke over Seeley Lake and the Liberty smoke heading east.  There is also a lot of Lolo Peak Fire smoke visible right over Lolo and Florence.  And oh, hey, hello new fire burning northwest of us.  The Sheep Gap Fire has been pretty active lately.  We don't typically see smoke from fires in that area, but we'll be keeping an eye on it.

August 31, 2017 morning satellite photo

You can see there's a little bit less out-of-state smoke in the region, but we may get hit by the smoke that's still hanging around northwest of us later today.

August 31, 2017 morning zoomed out satellite photo 

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

 


 

UPDATE: August 30, 6:00 p.m.

You'll be pleased to know that some of the projected winds did arrive around the county today.  You'll be less pleased to know that the wind is almost entirely over the mountains, and it is really strong right on top of the fires.  There were 33 mph gusts over the Lolo Peak Fire this afternoon.  I mean, I'm on Team Wind, but I should probably specify that it's Team VALLEY Wind.  Also, because sometimes everything is horrible, there is actually a lot of wind at Clearwater Junction right now, and they still have Unhealthy air.  If you want to shake your fist at your sky and curse the high pressure ridge under your breath, I will not judge you.

We are seeing some scattered lightning around the area.  I'm watching the (somewhat terrifying) lightning tracker, and see there have been some strikes in the Sapphire Mountains.  You, too, can watch the glowy orange dots of doom!  Here's the link to the map centered over Missoula: http://www.lightningmaps.org/?lang=en#m=sat;r=0;t=3;s=0;o=0;b=0.00;n=0;d=2;dl=2;dc=0;y=46.8212;x=-113.9801;z=8;

There has been a lot of cloud cover and some light surface breezes, but by and large Missoula has seen pretty stable conditions today.  We've had consistently Unhealthy air quality since this morning.  With the amount of cloud cover in the area, it's tricky to get a feel for how much of the conditions we're experiencing is from out-of-state smoke and how much of it is local.  Regardless, there is a ton of smoke under the clouds.  I'll go ahead and include a satellite photo.  You'll be able to see smoke from the Rice Ridge Fire granting an ugly brown tinge to clouds in that area, as well as a large plume of Idaho smoke headed straight for us.  The cloud cover is obscuring fire activity detection, so I'm not going to include one of those maps this evening.  

The Idaho smoke has the potential to play into our air quality this evening.  If/when it arrives, we can expect deteriorating conditions in the Missoula area.

While Missoula has seen little change or improvement in air quality today, other areas did change.  Frenchtown and Alberton deteriorated to Unhealthy (as it was foretold), and Lolo, Florence, Rainy Lake, Arlee and Seeley Lake all improved to Unhealthy.  In fact, at 5 p.m., every monitor in and around Missoula County registered Unhealthy air quality.  This is the first time all wildfire season that we've seen this kind of consensus on how scummy our air is.  Turns out, the air is scummy.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

I'm reposting this because it's important:

I know we tend to focus on the physical health effects of the smoke, but the relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.  Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700.  Please take care of yourselves, folks.  The heavy rain and/or snow cover we need to really put an end to this is a long way away.

This smoke is going to continue for a long time, but I'm feeling a bit more confident that tomorrow we may see some clearing thanks to a passing cold front.  The high pressure ridge is going to break down tonight, and we will continue to see isolated thunderstorms until about midnight.  I'm not expecting to see any strong surface winds until mid-morning at the earliest, so be prepared for another smoky morning.  There is likely to be significant smoke pooling near active fires, and widespread haze and smoke impacts everywhere else.

Expect Very Unhealthy or Hazardous conditions in Florence, Lolo and Seeley Lake, and potentially Unhealthy conditions everywhere else.  (Frenchtown and Alberton may be the outliers again - they are farther away from any active fires, and have mostly been dealing with afternoon impacts from smoke that's moved in from out of state.)

Tomorrow morning we will still be under southwesterly flow aloft, which will continue to send Idaho smoke our direction.  Perhaps more troubling for folks in Missoula, will be the transport winds from the south, which could drop a lot of Lolo Peak smoke on our heads in the morning.  We may see conditions get worse before they get better.

As the afternoon approaches, surface level winds should start to pick up, and the flow aloft will shift to the northwest.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of Washington and Canadian smoke northwest of us, so while we may get some valley scouring to rid us of local smoke, I'm not sure we can expect blue skies.

Also, the fires are likely to be very active tonight and tomorrow.  Be prepared for increased local smoke production and therefore more smoke impacts in the future.

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/.

The clouds are obscuring our local plumes, but I've highlighted a couple interesting highlights in this photo:

August 30, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

So much smoke!  You can see the Oregon smoke is starting to turn south, which is great for us.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of smoke to our northwest, which may come visiting tomorrow afternoon.

August 30, 2017 afternoon zoomed out satellite photo

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: August 30, 10:00 a.m.

The air is bad, and it's bad pretty much everywhere.  The places that aren't bad will be bad soon.  We have smoke at ground level, smoke above the inversion layer, and smoke aloft.  The only good thing about universally crummy air is it makes decision making a bit easier.  Ask yourself: "Should I run around outside this morning?  Really get that heart rate up?"  No.  The answer is no.

I wrote this yesterday, but it bears repeating:

The longer this drags on, the more it will wear on all of our systems.  Particulate matter is a cumulative pollutant, and we've all been swimming in it for a month, now.  When air quality is Unhealthy it is important that you respect not only the current conditions, but also the fact that your body has been fending off the pollution's effects for a month, and is likely getting a little worn down.  Anecdotally, headaches are becoming more pervasive and persistent, and respiratory symptoms from even light exercise more common.  Please take care of yourselves.  Also, there are good reasons we advise against exertion in Unhealthy air: the harder you're breathing, the bigger dose of pollution you're subjecting yourself to AND the harder you're making your system work to keep itself functioning.

Also, I know we tend to focus on the physical health effects of the smoke, but the relentless smoke cover, its wear and tear on the body, and the inability to get outside or exercise can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.  Check with your primary care provider if you are experiencing mental distress due to the smoke, or call the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 532-9700.  Please take care of yourselves, folks.  The heavy rain and/or snow cover we need to really put an end to this is a long way away.

Here are activity guidelines for schools, sporting events and day cares, as well as a handy brochure about HEPA filters.  We could be looking at another month of this smoke.  A HEPA filter will help you create a space in your home with breathable air.

There is thick smoke pooled in near active fires this morning, creating Very Unhealthy air quality in Lolo, Florence, and the Arlee/Evaro area.  Conditions in Seeley Lake are Hazardous again this morning, with the 1-hour PM2.5 concentrations back up around 1000 ug/m3.  It's been more than two weeks since the last time Seeley Lake residents didn't wake up to Hazardous air quality, and it's been more than a month since the last time they woke up to Moderate air quality.  While a lot of folks have been evacuated from Seeley Lake, there are still people living in the Seeley Lake valley and they are breathing the smoke.

The Holland Lake area does not typically see overnight pooled smoke from the Rice Ridge Fire, but today it has seen continuously deteriorating air quality since 4:00 a.m.  Conditions in the Holland Lake area are also Hazardous.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

Air quality in areas with pooled smoke will start to improve when the inversions break, which should happen around noon.

Those of us who are not directly adjacent to an active fire are still seeing significant smoke impacts this morning.  Conditions are Unhealthy in Missoula, Clearwater Junction, Rock Creek, and Condon.  Frenchtown and Alberton are the only hold outs, with Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups conditions, but when the overhead smoke mixes down, these areas will likely join us all in our smoke misery.  We have lost touch with our Potomac Valley monitor, but it is safe to assume conditions are, at a minimum, Unhealthy, and may be Very Unhealthy due to proximity to the Liberty Fire.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Conditions will continue to deteriorate this morning as inversions break in the larger valleys, which will allow overhead smoke from local fires to mix down into our breathing space.  We will also see smoke from active fires making a lateral move into nearby valleys, which will also cause deteriorating conditions.

This afternoon could see varying conditions depending on your location.  There is a chance some of us will see passing dry thunderstorms.  There will be gusty winds associated with these storms, which have the potential to help move some smoke out of the valley floor.  However, there are no large systems headed our way today, so if there is wind-driven clearing, it will be spotty.  The primary impact from any thunderstorms may be increased smoke production.  If thunderstorms move over active fire areas, there will be gusty outflow winds on the fires, which will increase fire activity.  There is also the risk of new starts from lightning strikes. 

Currently, it's looking like Missoula's best chance at some surface-level winds will be mid-to-late afternoon.

The confounding factor is, once again, smoke from fires burning far, far away.  We are still seeing smoke from the Pacific Northwest this morning, and today we will likely see more Idaho smoke added to the mix.  The PNW smoke that's far overhead will start to mix down this afternoon.  Meanwhile, transport breezes and the winds aloft will be from the southwest, which will drive smoke from Idaho toward Missoula County.  So while there's a chance winds will arrive to push away this morning's smoke, there's also a good chance new smoke will land on top of us.

Thursday continues to be our best bet for seeing any real valley-scouring winds across the county.  A passing cold front should provide strong the afternoon winds we've been looking for.  If the winds do arrive and we get some decent air, that is the time to go outside and take some good deep breaths.  Don't assume you will be healthy enough to go for a long run, but do air out your lungs, the inside of your car and your home.  We're headed toward another strong high pressure ridge this weekend, so grab fresh air while you can.

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/.

The fires were active again last night, and today is promising to be a very active fire day. There is a Red Flag Warning in effect from 1:00 p.m. this afternoon through 9:00 p.m. Thursday night. 

August 30, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

We have some light cloud cover, but also there is so much overhead smoke that I can't pick out the pooled smoke near the active fires.  This is a lot of smoke.  Also, check out the smoke blob over Idaho.  We're going to be seeing that smoke today.

August 30, 2017 morning satellite photo

The PNW smoke is largely headed to Canada today, but the smoke that's still overhead will stay with us for a bit, and we will see additional smoke from Idaho.  We may see some Oregon and northern California smoke late in the day.

August 30, 2017 morning zoomed out satellite photo

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

 

UPDATE: August 30, 7:00 a.m.

As of 7 a.m. Wednesday, air quality Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Frenchtown and Alberton.  Air quality is Unhealthy in Missoula, Clearwater Junction, the Swan Valley, Arlee, and Rock Creek.  Air quality is Very Unhealthy in Florence and Lolo.  Air quality is Hazardous in Seeley Lake.

At the morning progresses, air quality will deteriorate as overhead smoke mixes down and adjacent smoke flows into the valleys. Some relief from the smoke is possible this afternoon as the high temperatures break the inversions and lift the smoke upwards. There is also a small possibility of afternoon winds to help with the smoke. 

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Because smoke conditions can change rapidly and vary widely based on location, wind, fire flare ups and proximity to fires, the department encourages individuals to use visibility as a guideline to help gauge air quality at a given time and place and take appropriate precautions.  If you can’t see 5 miles, the air quality is Unhealthy. 

For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, access Montana’s “Today’s Air” web site.


 

UPDATE: August 29, 2017 6:00 p.m.

The high pressure ridge has been doing its best to destroy our hopes of breathable air today.  Most of us have been contending with air that became Unhealthy in the late morning hours and then stayed that way for the rest of the day.  There was a slight chance of improvement this afternoon, but it has not yet really materialized.  We may be looking at continued smoke impacts throughout the evening hours.  

While conditions deteriorated and then remained frustratingly stable for the afternoon for most of Missoula County, some areas did see improvement today.  The inversions all finished breaking shortly after noon, and that means Seeley Lake and Florence saw relief from smoke that had pooled overnight. (By "relief," I mean "slightly less horrible air.")  Conditions in Seeley Lake and Florence have improved to Unhealthy.  Likewise, the worst of the Rice Ridge smoke lifted from the Swan Valley, and the Holland Lake area improved from Very Unhealthy to Unhealthy this afternoon.

In fact, conditions are currently Unhealthy across Missoula County.  The only pockets of cleaner air are in Rock Creek and Condon, where conditions are Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. 

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

The fires were all very active this afternoon, and are likely to show continued activity this evening.  There is a lot of smoke pouring off the fires today, and some of that smoke will become trapped overnight under inversions.  If we don't see any significant clearing tonight, tomorrow morning's smoke could be really bad.  We are looking at light and variable overnight breezes, cooler temperatures and continued high pressure.  This means the inversions tomorrow morning will be strong, and the pooled smoke near active fires will include everything that's still at ground level tonight as well as new smoke that is produced under the inversion layer and new smoke that rolls down hill and gets trapped under the inversion layer.

There's a good chance all of us will greet the morning with smoky skies.  There will be overhead smoke from local fires that will mix down when the inversions break and there will be smoke farther overhead (aloft, if you will) that will become a factor later in the day.  This smoke aloft is from fires burning in Oregon, Washington and northern California, and it is going to remain a factor for the near future.

Also, because it just wouldn't be right if we didn't have the whole gang in one place, we are starting to seeing smoke from Idaho fires swing a little bit more to the north where it has easier access to Missoula County.  We all know Idaho smoke loves the Bitterroot most, but now it's our turn to get in a little quality time with our super smoky neighbor.

All of this overhead smoke and locally produced smoke means we can expect widespread hazy skies and significant smoke pooling near active fires in the morning.

Florence, Lolo and Seeley Lake will continue to see the worst impacts, with Hazardous conditions likely in Seeley Lake, and Very Unhealthy or Hazardous air quality possible in Florence and Lolo.  Elsewhere, conditions will likely range from Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups to Unhealthy.  

It's looking like the Washington smoke will start spending more time in Canada tomorrow due to southwesterly flow aloft over those fires.  Unfortunately, the same southwesterly flows are over the fires in Oregon, Idaho and northern California, and their smoke will be headed our direction.  This means we are unlikely to get any real relief from regional smoke.  Washington smoke may become the dominating out-of-state smoke on Thursday when flows shift again to be from the northwest.

A cold front will pass through on Thursday, and we will see the high pressure ridge start to break down Wednesday night ahead of its arrival.  The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag warning for the area starting at 1:00 p.m. Wednesday due to the increased chance of thunderstorms, low humidity and increasing winds.  While there's a good chance of wind over the active fires tomorrow (which we don't want), I'm not convinced we will see any valley scouring winds at lower elevations (which are the winds we do want).  However, mixing heights are looking pretty good, so there is once again the slight chance of afternoon improvement due to convective lift.  A *slight* chance.  Tomorrow could still be universally scummy.  Thursday and Friday will bring our best chances of valley-scouring wind.  Looking further ahead, there's another strong high pressure ridge coming for us, and continued smoke impacts for the foreseeable future.

The longer this drags on, the more it will wear on all of our systems.  Particulate matter is a cumulative pollutant, and we've all been swimming in it for a month, now.  When air quality is Unhealthy it is important that you respect not only the current conditions, but also the fact that your body has been fending off the pollution's effects for a month, and is likely getting a little worn down.  Anecdotally, headaches are becoming more pervasive and persistent, and respiratory symptoms from even light exercise more common.  Please take care of yourselves.  Also, there are good reasons we advise against exertion in Unhealthy air: the harder you're breathing, the bigger dose of pollution you're subjecting yourself to AND the harder you're making your system work to keep itself functioning.

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/.

The Rice Ridge, Liberty and Lolo Peak fires were all very active today:082917_PM fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

What you see here is just a lot of smoke.  There are towns underneath that smoke, I promise.  Also, if you look closely you can pick out some of our locally generated plumes (particularly Rice Ridge).

082917_PM color

We are already starting to see Idaho smoke headed our way.  There's a good chance the Oregon and northern California smoke will be pointed more directly at us tomorrow.  Also, Canada is still on fire.  That may become more of a factor in a few days when the flow aloft shifts back to the northwest

082917_PM zoom

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: August 29, 10:00 a.m.

There was some next level dystopian lighting in Missoula this morning.  The clouds made it dark and the smoke made it orange and glowy.  Also the air smelled bad.  It was the complete package, really. 

We're seeing the gamut of smoke impacts this morning.  Our low temperatures were not particularly low (thanks, cloud cover!), and we're seeing some pretty weak inversions scattered across the county.  This has led to smoke mixing into some valleys earlier than we've typically seen.  We're also seeing smoke escaping some valleys a bit earlier.  For example, rather than relentlessly building this morning, the smoke levels in Seeley Lake have been fluctuating between Very Unhealthy and Hazardous for hours, now.  Meanwhile, Rice Ridge smoke over the Swan Valley mixed down relatively early this morning and caused conditions in Condon and the Holland Lake area to plummet.  Air quality is currently Unhealthy in Condon and Very Unhealthy in the Holland Lake area.  At the 9:00 a.m. hour, Seeley Lake had returned to Hazardous conditions.

The cloud cover is making plume identification difficult, but it is safe to assume that the Very Unhealthy air quality in Florence and the Unhealthy air quality in Lolo is the result of the smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire pooling in the Bitterroot Valley, which has seen stubborn inversions this morning.

Conditions became Unhealthy in Missoula this morning when the inversion broke and overhead smoke was able to mix down to the valley floor. (We were also treated to some fresh fire smell this morning thanks to some stronger-than-expected breezes acting like a smoke delivery service.)

Liberty Fire smoke is creating Unhealthy conditions in the Arlee and Clearwater Junction areas

Air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in the Potomac Valley and Rock Creek, although these areas may see worsening conditions later this morning.

Frenchtown and Alberton continue to enjoy better air quality than the rest of us (for now).  Conditions are currently Moderate in these areas, but will likely deteriorate later today when overhead smoke mixes down to ground level.

There is a broad swath of smoke from fires burning in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) (Oregon, Washington and northern California) covering the region, and while it's likely most of this morning's impacts are from local smoke, it is very possible that PNW smoke is contributing at least a little.  (We are seeing PNW smoke impacts across western Montana, where areas without any local fires are seeing Moderate air quality this morning.)  The bulk of the PNW smoke  is still aloft, which means it will become more of an issue later today.

Today we will be looking at easterly surface and transport breezes, which will influence our local plume behavior.  However, the flow aloft will continue to be be from the west, which will keep us under at least part of the PNW smoke wave.  Conditions are likely to continue to deteriorate this morning due to local smoke movement, and then we may see additional smoke this afternoon from PNW fires.

This afternoon is when it gets tricky.  There is a slight chance that we will see some improvements due to increasing atmospheric instability and high temperatures.  However, the PNW smoke may mix down and that will, at the very least, leave us with widespread haze.  In addition, we are still under a high pressure ridge that could limit the effectiveness of convective lifting.  Our best bet for improvement will be in the late afternoon when mixing heights and temperatures spike.  This could cause both significant convective lifting of the local smoke and opportunities for transport breezes to move that smoke away from our valleys.  If, of course, the high pressure ridge is kind enough to let that happen.  I'm not saying there's a good chance of improvement, but there is a chance.

We may also see thunderstorms this afternoon, which could result in gusty winds over the fires, and therefore increased fire behavior and more smoke production.  Even without the potential thunderstorms, this will be a very active fire day. 

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/.

There continued to be some overnight fire activity last night, particularly on the Rice Ridge Fire:

August 29, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

Cloud cover is inhibiting plume identification, but at least on the zoomed out photo you can see the PNW smoke pretty clearly.  A lot of the smoke is heading into Canada, but we are likely to continue to catch the southern edge of the smoke wave throughout the day.

August 29, 2017 zoomed out satellite photo

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.


 

UPDATE: August 28, 5:45 p.m.

*Here are recommendations for outdoor activities for schools and childcare facilities.  Please share these recommendations widely.*

Smoke impacts continued throughout the day today, with some areas hit harder than others.  The inversion in Seeley Lake didn't completely break until this afternoon, and while Seeley Lake has seen significant improvement, the area still has Unhealthy air quality.  Florence briefly hit Hazardous air quality this morning, but they improved to Unhealthy conditions and are currently trending toward Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. 

In general (and unsurprisingly), the areas with the worst air quality at the moment are the areas nearest to or downwind of active fires.  In addition to Seeley Lake, air quality is Unhealthy in Lolo, Frenchtown, Missoula and Clearwater Junction.  Like Florence, Lolo is trending toward Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.

Conditions are generally Moderate in Arlee, the Potomac Valley, the Swan Valley and Rock Creek.  Air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Alberton.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

We may see some continued improvements across the county this evening, but as long as Pacific Northwest (PNW) smoke is overhead, complete clearing is unlikely.  

Fire activity started really picking up late this afternoon, and will likely continue into the evening hours.  And thanks to the high pressure ridge,  a lot of the smoke that is produced tonight will stick around - either under the inversion layer or over it.  In addition,  smoke from fires burning in California, Oregon and Washington will continue to head our direction and will likely still be overhead tomorrow morning.  We can expect widespread haze across the region and significant smoke pooling near active fires. 

In short, tomorrow morning will be similar to this morning, only probably worse. 

Seeley Lake and the Bitterroot Valley will continue to suffer from the most severe morning smoke impacts.  The Rice Ridge Fire isn't slowing down, and its smoke will continue to pool in the Seeley Lake valley every night.  With inversions lasting longer into the day, this means air quality in Seeley Lake is becoming worse now than it was in the early days of the fire.  Since August 1st, Seeley Lake has seen five days with a 24-hour PM2.5 average greater than 300 ug/m3.  Three of those days were in the last week.

Air quality will once again be Hazardous in Seeley Lake tomorrow morning.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

The Bitterroot Valley is being hit by Lolo Peak smoke, Idaho smoke, and Pacific Northwest smoke.  This will make it difficult for the area to see much improvement tonight.  Conditions in Florence will likely be Very Unhealthy or Hazardous in the morning.  Lolo will likely have Unhealthy or Very Unhealthy air quality.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

And why yes, this does feel like the smoke season that never ends.  I promise it will end, but for now, do me a favor and try not to strategically insert smoke references into the lyrics from "The Song That Never Ends." The smoke is bad enough.  No need to torture ourselves.

We are seeing active fires across the area, and we will continue to see active fire behavior throughout the week:

August 28, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

Cloud cover is obscuring our local plumes, but I promise some of them are massive.  For now, enjoy the graceful sweep of PNW smoke. 

August 28, 2017 afternoon zoomed out satellite photo

Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

 

UPDATE: August 28, 2017 10:00 a.m.

I hope you're all ready for Pacific Northwest Smoke: The Return.  We had a nice couple days of clearer skies over the weekend as smoke from Oregon, California and Washington swept south of Missoula County.  Unfortunately, the smoke from those fires is now under the influence of flow aloft that is pulling smoke from Oregon and California up to Washington and then swinging it to the east.  There's already a fair bit of that smoke overhead, and it will be coming down later today to say hi and make friends with the local smoke. 

The Pacific Northwest (PNW) smoke will cause widespread haze and will undermine the benefits of afternoon convection.  Our smoke may lift up late this afternoon, but the PNW smoke will come down to take its place.

This morning, our most pressing concern is still the locally generated smoke.  The fires have been extremely active for the past couple days, and several of them continued to produce a lot of heat and smoke overnight.  The smoke from these fires funneled down into valleys where it became trapped under strong inversions.  The pooled smoke will continue to linger in the valleys for several hours this morning.  We are under a high pressure ridge that will delay inversion break, and some areas may not start to see smoke lift off the valley floor until noon.  Once those strong inversions break, there should be some improvement for communities dealing with the thickest smoke (Seeley Lake and Florence).

For the rest of us, inversion break will mean worsening air quality.  There is a lot of smoke overhead, and as inversions start to break, those of us in the larger valleys will see the local smoke mix down into our breathing space.  The air quality was already pretty crummy in Missoula this morning, and it's about to get worse. 

As the day wears on, we are going to see a lot of competing factors that will complicate our chances for air quality improvement.  To begin, we are under a strong high pressure ridge.  High pressure limits smoke's ability to go anywhere.  It acts like a lid over the region and can result in significant smoke build up.  To counteract this, we are also looking at very warm temperatures today, which, if they start to rise soon enough in the day, could result in convective lift to at least move the smoke off the valley floor.  Unfortunately, convection will be delayed by strong inversions, and those inversions are further strengthened by the thick overhead smoke that may prevent us from even reaching the projected high afternoon temperatures.  And of course, if we do start to see some atmospheric mixing and nice convection in the afternoon, the overhead PNW smoke will mix down and cause continued smoke impacts.

What I'm saying is, our opportunities for decent air may be pretty limited today.  Currently, the best air quality is in Frenchtown and Alberton, where they are enjoying pleasantly Moderate air.  These areas aren't dealing any pooled smoke, but there is a lot of overhead smoke from the PNW as well as some overhead smoke from the local fires.  Conditions in Frenchtown and Alberton are likely to start deteriorating later this morning as local smoke mixes down, and then later this afternoon there may be additional deterioration from PNW smoke.

(If that sounds odd, know that the PNW smoke is at a much higher elevation than the local smoke.  Our mixing height is likely to increase enough to reach the PNW smoke by late afternoon.)

Conditions are Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Rock Creek  and are likely to become Unhealthy in the next hour or so.  Missoula and Lolo are seeing smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire, Arlee and the Potomac Valley are being hit by Liberty Fire smoke, and there's a ton of smoke from the Rice Ridge Fire stretching over the Swan Valley.  As a result, air quality is already Unhealthy in Missoula, Lolo, Arlee, the Potomac Valley, the Holland Lake area and Condon.  We can expect further deteriorating air quality through the morning hours at these locations.  

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Air quality is Very Unhealthy in Florence.  Florence continues to bear the brunt of pooled Lolo Peak smoke.  (Lolo had a rough night as well, but conditions had improved to Unhealthy by 3 a.m.)  Air quality in Florence is currently Very Unhealthy and may hit Hazardous before inversions break.  When the inversions to break, Florence should see improvement as the pooled smoke is finally able to move out of the area.

The smoke is really bad in Seeley Lake.  Air quality is Hazardous, and it's been getting worse as the morning wears on. The 9 a.m. PM2.5 measurement was 961.7 ug/m3.  Conditions in Seeley Lake should start to improve by noon, but Seeley Lake may not see complete clearing today.  The high pressure will limit smoke movement and overhead smoke will mix down in the afternoon.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

Our best bet for improvement will be around 4:00 p.m. today - temperatures and mixing heights will increase at that time, as will ground and transport wind speeds.  However, there is a good chance that while we may see some improvement, there will still be localized smoke impacts and there will be widespread haze from PNW smoke.  Keep in mind that we are likely to see another day of extremely active fire behavior.  This means more smoke pooling over night and more smoke impacts tomorrow.

The Bitterroot Valley will be hit by Idaho smoke this afternoon, which will complicate Florence's ability to see any prolonged air quality improvements.

Fires continued burning overnight:

August 28, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

Smoke is trapped under strong inversions across the county.  There's also smoke lingering above the inversion layer waiting to come down to greet us later this morning.

August 28, 2017 morning satellite photo

PNW Smoke: The Return

August 28, 2017 morning zoomed out satellite photo

Satellite photo source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: August 28, 2017 8:00 a.m.

As of 7 a.m. Monday, air quality is Moderate in Alberton, Frenchtown and the Swan Valley.  Air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in the Potomac Valley and Rock Creek.  Air quality is Unhealthy in Missoula, Lolo and Arlee.  Air quality is Very Unhealthy in Florence

At the morning progresses, air quality will deteriorate as overhead smoke mixes down and adjacent smoke flows into the valleys. Some relief from the smoke is possible this afternoon as the high temperatures break the inversions and lift the smoke upwards.  

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

Air quality is Hazardous in Seeley Lake.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Because smoke conditions can change rapidly and vary widely based on location, wind, fire flare ups and proximity to fires, the department encourages individuals to use visibility as a guideline to help gauge air quality at a given time and place and take appropriate precautions.  If you can’t see 5 miles, the air quality is Unhealthy. 

For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, access Montana’s “Today’s Air” web site.


 

UPDATE: August 27, 2017 5:00 p.m.

The last “weekend update” without Sarah.  Smoked gouda cheese and smoked salmon for lunch was delicious, but the smoked air was not good.  As the day progressed air quality did worsen in many valleys followed by a moderate lifting of the smoke in the late afternoon.  For  a couple of hours air quality was unhealthy in Missoula before improving to unhealthy for sensitive groups.  Because of the stable atmospheric conditions and increased fire activity, expect this pattern to continue through Monday or Tuesday with worse air quality each day.  Unhealthy air quality is likely Monday in large sections of  Missoula County.

As of 4:00 PM Sunday air quality was:

Moderate in Frenchtown and Alberton;

Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Missoula, Potomac, Rock Creek and Arlee;

Unhealthy in Florence, Lolo and Rainy Lake; and

Very Unhealthy in Seeley Lake.

 When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

Air quality will likely become Hazardous tonight for people living near the active fires of Rice Ridge, Lolo Peak and Liberty.   Hazardous air quality is likely tonight or Monday morning in Lolo, Florence and other locations down drainage of active fires.  Hazardous air quality is almost a certainty in Seeley Lake tonight.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

There were good satellite images today that showed where the smoke is originating and going.  This satellite image of the Pacific Northwest shows the Oregon and Washington smoke arching up and then curving south of our location.  All the smoke plumes in west central Montana and Idaho are easy to pick out.  The Idaho smoke was mostly impacting the Bitterroot Valley.

Smoke Plumes Pacific NW 082717 

Source:  NOAA's GOES-16 satellite has not been declared operational and its data are preliminary and undergoing testing.

In this close up the Sunrise plume, which made some people out riding horses go back to the barn, is visible but that fire is not as active as the Rice Ridge, Liberty, Lolo Peak and Alice Creek fires have become.

Wildfire Smoke Missoula County 082717

Source:  NOAA's GOES-16 satellite has not been declared operational and its data are preliminary and undergoing testing.

 

UPDATE: August 27, 2017 9:30 a.m.

As of 9 a.m. Sunday, air quality is good to moderate in Missoula, Rock Creek, Alberton, Frenchtown, and Rainy Lake.  Air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Clearwater, Arlee and the Potomac.  Air Quality is Unhealthy in Lolo and Very Unhealthy in Florence.

As the morning progresses, air quality may deteriorate as more smoke is pushed or flows into the valleys. Moderate relief from the smoke is possible this afternoon as high temperatures break the inversions and lift the smoke upwards.   Expect fire activity to increase later today with worse air quality expected in many parts of western Montana tonight and Monday morning.

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

 

Air quality is Hazardous in Seeley Lake.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

In the picture below you can see smoke from the Lolo Peak and Rice Ridge fires pooling onto the valley floors.  You can see places clear of smoke to the north and west of Missoula.  No out of state smoke plume appears over Missoula County at this time, so at least we have that going for us.

Wildfire Smoke 082717 am

Source:  NOAA's GOES-16 satellite has not been declared operational and its data are preliminary and undergoing testing.

On Saturday the Rice Ridge and Alice Creek fires grew by more than 3000 acres and Lolo Peak fire grew by 2,100 acres.  The fire detection map below from this morning shows the active fires from Saturday.  Even more activity and smoke is expected today.

Wildfire Activity_AM 082717

Source:  https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

UPDATE: August 26, 2017 4:30 p.m.

As of 4:30 p.m. Saturday, air quality is good to moderate in Missoula, Rock Creek, Alberton, Frenchtown, Clearwater, Rainy Lake, Lolo and Arlee.  Air quality is Unhealthy in Florence and Seeley Lake.  

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

We could have the perfect (not perfect good, but perfectly bad) set up for down drainage smoke flow tonight from the Rice Ridge, Lolo Peak and Liberty fires.  All three fires actively burned today, high pressure with limited winds is here, and inversions are quite likely to set up.  Yesterday I crossed my fingers hoping that, except for those communities next to the fires, the county would avoid heavy smoke impacts.  We did get a break and many people did have decent air quality.  Crossed fingers probably will not work tonight and air quality may become hazardous in Seeley Lake, Florence, Lolo, Potomac and maybe Clearwater Junction.  Well, Seeley Lake will become hazardous based on their experiences.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

Expect hazy conditions to exist in most parts of the county on Sunday.  Missoula will likely see more smoke impacts on Sunday than were present on Saturday.

In the picture below you can see that the Rice Ridge, Liberty, and Lolo fires and smoke plumes have taken off today.  When looking south in Missoula you can see the large Lolo Peak fire smoke plume.  The Sunshine fire has also put out some smoke.  Right now we have very little if any out of state smoke overhead, so this has provided nice blue skies for those not directly under a smoke plume.

Wildfire Smoke Afternoon 082617

Source:  NOAA's GOES-16 satellite has not been declared operational and its data are preliminary and undergoing testing.

 

UPDATE: August 26, 2017 10:00 a.m.

As of 10 a.m. Saturday, air quality is good to moderate in Missoula, Rock Creek, Alberton, Frenchtown, Clearwater, Rainy Lake and Arlee.  Air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Lolo and Very Unhealthy in Florence.  

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

Air quality is Hazardous in Seeley Lake.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

Today the inversions are not very strong, but with high pressure and increased fire activity expected through the weekend, air quality may worsen tonight and Sunday.   The out of state smoke should stay aloft and not impact Missoula County too much, but the locally produced smoke will pool and collect through the weekend.  Hopefully with weak inversions today most of the smoke will stay off or leave the valley floors this afternoon.  The 8/26/17 fire activity map below shows the increased fire activity at the Rice Ridge, Liberty and Lolo Peak fires.  As the Liberty fire increases, smoke episodes in Potomac and Clearwater Junction will occur.

Fire Activity AM August 26, 2017 

Source:  https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

UPDATE: August 25, 2017 5:00 p.m.

With the reduced fire activity, ok dispersion and the Oregon smoke plume moving a bit south today, air quality was much improved (not good mind you, just improved) throughout the county.  Hope you enjoyed this break because a high pressure ridge with strong inversions and increased fire activity looks to be the call for this weekend.  With the high pressure, smoke generated in the area may not leave till the next front comes through.  Keep our fingers crossed that it will take the fires a bit of time Saturday to really get going and then we could sneak in another day of OK air in parts of the county.

As of 5 p.m. Friday, air quality is good to moderate in Missoula, Seeley Lake, Rock Creek, Lolo, Alberton, Frenchtown, Rainy Lake and Arlee.  Air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Florence, Clearwater, and the Potomac Valley.  

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Air quality will likely become Hazardous tonight in Seeley Lake, Florence and possibly Lolo, Clearwater Junction and the Potomac Valley.  The Liberty Fire is sending smoke towards the Potomac and Clearwater Junction.  Expect air quality to worsen throughout Missoula County tonight. 

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

We could be back to the same pattern we had earlier this week, down drainage smoke from the fires into the valleys at night and early morning followed by hoping the smoke will heat out and disperse but it just doesn’t quite get enough lift in the afternoon to really clear out.  One good thing we may have in our favor is it appears the Oregon smoke plume should move south of us and if Washington does not send smoke our way, it will be mostly Montana made smoke in the county.  The local ring of fires will still produce enough smoke for all of the county, so we really do not need the Oregon plume.   Does “ring of fires” make anyone else think of Middle Earth?  In the satellite picture below you can see the Oregon smoke plume going over the Bitterroot Valley.  

Wildfire Smoke August 25, 2017 

Source:  NOAA's GOES-16 satellite has not been declared operational and its data are preliminary and undergoing testing.

Fire activity was a bit sluggish today, as shown in the fire detection map.

 Fire Activity August 25, 2017

Source:  https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

UPDATE: August 25, 2017 9:00 a.m.

The sustained winds have moved the smoke mostly out of the valley’s this morning.  Air Quality is moderate through most of the county and fire activity appears to have been moderated by the rain and cooler temperatures.  Air Quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Lolo and Unhealthy in Florence.  Florence could be impacted by Lolo Peak smoke during the day.

In Seeley Lake air quality became Hazardous at 5 am this morning.  On the plus side, we are seeing PM2.5 levels between 300 and 520 micrograms per cubic meter instead of over 900 micrograms per cubic meter.  With the Rice Ridge fire so close to Seeley Lake, expect nightly smoke impacts to continue.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

With weak inversions this morning, low pressure, and light surface winds in the forecast around 4 pm, air quality should remain moderate in most of Missoula County.  Seeley Lake should see a clearing out of the smoke later today.

On Saturday a high pressure ridge with stronger inversions and increasing temperatures will start.  So expect smoke to build up again as fire activity increases and dispersion decreases.  Hopefully it will take a little time for the fires to become super active and the smoke levels to build up in the valleys.  Yesterday I thought this high pressure ridge would stick around through most of next week, but now it appears that it will start to break down as early as Sunday night.  By Sunday we should have a better feel on what to expect for the start of the work week.

UPDATE: August 24, 2017 5:00 p.m.

The 4 pm cold front has done a good job reducing smoke levels throughout Missoula County.  As of 4 PM air quality was Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Missoula, Frenchtown, Seeley Lake, Potomac, Rock Creek and Lolo.  Arlee and Rainy Lake had moderate air quality at 4 PM.  Now may be a good time to air out your homes and enjoy the breezes.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

The hold out in all this is Florence where the air was still Unhealthy but improving.  Expect more smoke at this location Friday morning but there is a good chance of some clearing by Friday afternoon.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Overnight sustained winds are predicted, but chances that the winds will be sustained enough to keep the smoke out of Seeley Lake seems unlikely.  So Seeley Lake may not have hazardous air Friday morning, but with that narrow valley, to me hazardous air seems more than likely when people wake up in the morning.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

Friday is still looking like a pretty typical summer wildfire season day - smoke impacts in the morning with potential afternoon improvements (with, of course, out-of-state smoke mucking up any confidence in real smoke clearing).  Things start to get hairy on Saturday.  Take advantage of any clearing we get today and tomorrow.  We're headed toward a prolonged smoke event starting Saturday and lasting until mid-week next week.  A strong high pressure ridge is going to lead to stubborn morning inversions and stable atmospheric conditions.  Smoke will have a hard time leaving the area, and as new smoke is produced or delivered from out of state, conditions will deteriorate.

In this afternoons picture you can see the Oregon smoke that has been adding depth to our smoke.  The higher level transport winds should direct that smoke to our south by next week.  If Washington can avoid the fire bug we may have to deal only with our own locally generated smoke this weekend and the beginning of next week.  

 Wildfire Smoke August 24, 2017

Source:  NOAA's GOES-16 satellite has not been declared operational and its data are preliminary and undergoing testing.

UPDATE: August 24, 2017 10:00 a.m.

It was bit better this morning, wasn't it? It wasn't *good*, per se, but it was definitely better.  Now that we're out from under the high pressure ridge we're starting to see some air movement in the area.  We've also benefited from cloud cover that kept overnight temperatures a bit warmer than what we've seen.  Inversions are not quite as strong as they have been, and some valley floors started increasing temperatures around 8:00 a.m.  Unfortunately, the inversions breaking mean Missoula is now seeing an influx of overhead smoke, and conditions that were previously Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups are now Unhealthy.

We will continue to see fluctuating smoke impacts across the region this morning as pooled smoke shifts into neighboring valleys before lifting up and overhead smoke descends over the entire region.

We are still seeing significant smoke pooling near the Rice Ridge and Lolo Peak fires.  Conditions are Hazardous in Seeley Lake and were Hazardous in Florence until 9 a.m.  Both of these areas are already seeing improvements this morning.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

Lolo has dodged the worst of the Lolo Peak smoke this morning.  Conditions are currently Unhealthy in Lolo (it's not good, it's just better than yesterday), and conditions in Florence have improved to Unhealthy.  Conditions are also Unhealthy in Missoula, Rock Creek and Clearwater Junction (the Liberty Fire was the most active fire in the area last night, and it's been sending smoke down a variety of drainages to hit Arlee, the Potomac Valley and Clearwater Junction).

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Frenchtown and Alberton both have Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups air quality this morning, and the Swan Valley wins the morning with Moderate air quality.  The Swan Valley may yet see Rice Ridge smoke this morning after inversions in that area break, but it should be a short-lived intrusion.  Frenchtown and Alberton may also see deteriorating conditions later this morning, and conditions may become Unhealthy.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

A cold front is headed our way this afternoon, and it should provide some strong, gusty winds that could scour smoke out of the valleys.  Unfortunately, the southwesterly flow aloft will still be escorting Oregon and Northern California smoke to our area.  If this smoke lands on us, we will continue to see smoke impacts this evening.  Typically, however, when there are crazy strong surface winds, strong transport winds and a decent mixing height, smoke has a hard time lingering in the valley.  These three conditions are supposed to line up at around 4 p.m. this afternoon.

It looks like we may have at least a few hours of significant air quality improvement this afternoon, with potential benefits into the early evening hours.  If we do see improvements, that will be the time to air out your homes and lungs. 

The winds associated with the cold front are likely to influence fire behavior, and we may see additional smoke production this evening.  We're going to keep seeing atmospheric mixing until pretty late tonight, which may limit the amount of smoke that pools near active fires, but could also mean we see more overhead smoke brought down to the valley floor before inversions set up.  This is where the Oregon and California smoke comes into play (as does new smoke generated by our local fires).  We may end up with widespread smoke impacts by morning.  However, the National Weather Service is being optimistic again and predicting sustained overnight winds, which should minimize overnight smoke pooling.  It's time to get out your Team Wind T-shirts!

Friday is still looking like a pretty typical wildfire season day - smoke impacts in the morning with potential afternoon improvements (with, of course, out-of-state smoke mucking up any confidence in real smoke clearing).  Things start to get hairy on Saturday.  Take advantage of any clearing we get today and tomorrow.  We're headed toward a prolonged smoke event starting Saturday and lasting until mid-week next week.  A strong high pressure ridge is going to lead to stubborn morning inversions and stable atmospheric conditions.  Smoke will have a hard time leaving the area, and as new smoke is produced or delivered from out of state, conditions will deteriorate.

If you are like me, and are morbidly curious about lightning from the thunderstorms that are supposed to roll through the area, here is a link to the LightningMaps.org map centered over Missoula : http://www.lightningmaps.org/?lang=en#m=sat;r=0;t=3;s=0;o=0;b=0.00;n=0;d=2;dl=2;dc=0;y=46.6084;x=-113.7686;z=7;

Also, I am going to be heading out for the next few days, so Ben Schmidt will take on the role of updating this site with twice-daily missives of doom and gloom.  And possibly also some dumb smoke jokes.  Peas in a pod, we are.

The Oregon and California smoke will be the confounding factor in our air quality for at least the next day or so.

August 24, 2017 morning zoomed out satellite photo

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

The storm approaches!!

August 24, 2017 morning radar

Source: https://radar.weather.gov/radar.php?rid=msx&product=N0R&overlay=11101111&loop=no

UPDATE: August 24, 8:00 a.m.

As of 8 a.m. Wednesday, air quality is Moderate in Condon.  Air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Missoula, Frenchtown, the Potomac Valley and Alberton.  Air quality is Unhealthy in Lolo, Arlee and Rock Creek.  Air quality is Hazardous in Florence and Seeley Lake.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Air quality will fluctuate this morning, but conditions should improve later this afternoon due to strong winds from a passing cold front that should scour smoke out of the valleys.

Because smoke conditions can change rapidly and vary widely based on location, wind, fire flare ups and proximity to fires, the department encourages individuals to use visibility as a guideline to help gauge air quality at a given time and place and take appropriate precautions.  If you can’t see 5 miles, the air quality is Unhealthy.  More smoke information is available at http://www.missoulacounty.us/airquality/.  

For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, access Montana’s “Today’s Air” web site.


 

UPDATE: August 23, 6:00 p.m.

It was a miserable day, but at least we could all be miserable together.  The strong high pressure ridge created a stable atmosphere that prevented smoke from moving out of our breathing space. Many areas saw persistent smoke impacts throughout the day.

I didn't actually want to be right about this one, you guys.  I was pulling for the National Weather Service's cheery prediction of strong afternoon winds that would provide a few hours of air we could see through.  It seemed unlikely, which is why I didn't promise it, but I wanted to be wrong.  I miss not seeing the the air. 

Anyway.

Seeley Lake, Lolo and Florence all saw improvements in the afternoon, but they still have Unhealthy air quality at this evening.  Air quality is also Unhealthy in Missoula, Frenchtown, Alberton and Rock Creek.  We have seen more significant smoke clearing in the Swan Valley, Arlee/Evaro area and Clearwater Junction.  Conditions are Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups at these locations.  (Air quality has improved a little bit already in Missoula - if you look toward the horizon and squint you can see where the mountains are supposed to be.)

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

These next couple hours are our best bet for improvement this evening.  There are some decent winds forming around the county, which could help usher smoke out of our breathing space.  However, it is likely there will be some smoke on the ground tonight (and therefore also smoke on the ground in the morning).  The Swan Valley and Greenough have the highest odds of clearing out right now, but Greenough could easily be looking at a fresh deluge of smoke from the Liberty Fire as fire activity picks up.

There's a fair amount of cloud cover on this afternoon's satellite photo, but underneath those clouds you can see that darn Oregon and California smoke still coming for us.  There's a good chance we will continue to see smoke from fires in Oregon, California and Idaho for the near future.  Southwesterly flow aloft is delivering the smoke to western Montana, and it's going to be putting a damper air quality conditions across the region until the overhead wind direction shifts, and it's all southwesterly, all the time for at least the next two days.

Tomorrow morning is likely to start out similar to this morning, with the potential for widespread smoke impacts from out-of-state smoke and significant smoke pooling near active fires.  Conditions are likely to be Hazardous in Florence, Lolo and Seeley Lake by morning.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

We have the chance for a good scouring starting tomorrow afternoon.  A cold front will move through the area, and winds should start picking up shortly after noon.  The National Weather Service is predicting a sustained 20 mph west wind, with gusts up near 30 mph.  If these winds arrive (and I have more faith in them than today's winds), we should see significant air quality improvements throughout the area.  Unfortunately, we are also likely to see increased fire activity, which means more smoke in the future.  There is also a good chance we will see lightning from passing thunderstorms, which bring the threat of new fires to the region.

Looking ahead, Friday may provide a more typical wildfire smoke day (bad in the morning, improving in the afternoon), and Saturday is going to usher in a prolonged period of atmospheric stability.  Smoke will impacts will continue and worsen through at least early next week under a strong high pressure ridge.  There is no good news in the long range forecast.  There's only smoke. 

With classes starting around the county it will be very important to be mindful of smoke levels and take appropriate protective measures. I have attached guidelines for schools and day cares regarding time spent outside and activity levels. 

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/.

There wasn't a ton of fire activity that could be picked up by MODIS this afternoon.  However, we may see more activity tonight due to evening breezes over the fires.

August 23, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

The cloud cover is preventing me from picking out the individual plumes, but it's pretty clear that we have a lot of smoke today.

August 23, 2017 afternoon color satellite photo

I don't remember ordering my cold front with a side of Oregon smoke . . .

August 23, 2017 afternoon zoomed out satellite photo

UPDATE: August 23, 10:00 a.m.

We're seeing smoke from our local fires as well as some out-of-state smoke that decided to pay us a visit late last night.  The combination is creating conditions that range from Unhealthy to Hazardous across the county, with a pocket of less horrid air along I-90 from Frenchtown to Alberton. (Frenchtown is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups and Alberton is Moderate.  For now.  There is a good chance they will deteriorating air quality later this morning.)

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

It's bad out there, folks.  The Lolo Peak, Sunrise, Liberty and Rice Ridge fires were all really active last night, and that led to new smoke that ended up trapped under the inversion.  Conditions in Florence are beyond Hazardous right now.  The Lolo Peak Fire continued is southward push, and it is swamping the Florence area with smoke.  The portable monitors we're using get a little less trustworthy at super high particulate concentrations, but right now, the monitor in Florence hit an hourly PM2.5 average of 1,111 ug/m3 this morning.  This is the worst we've seen in Missoula County so far this year.  There were numbers like this coming off the Sunrise Fire when there was a monitor at Quartz Creek, but there are a lot more people living in Florence than in Quartz Creek.  The firefighters are conducting burnout operations near Florence this morning, which is contributing to the smoky conditions.  I'm hopeful that the incredibly high particulate concentrations will not be as relentlessly repeated in Florence and Lolo as what we're seeing in Seeley Lake, but it is important that folks living in the Bitterroot Valley near the Lolo Peak Fire take steps to protect themselves from the smoke.  There are some useful wildfire smoke tips on our website on the Climate Smart Missoula website. Please consider using a portable room air filter to create a clean air refuge in a room in your home.  

The air quality is also Hazardous in Lolo and Seeley Lake, and Seeley Lake's numbers are only a little bit better than what we're seeing in Florence.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

Conditions in Florence, Lolo and Seeley Lake should improve later today when the inversions break.  However, we are still under a high pressure ridge, and the inversions we're seeing in the Bitterroot and Seeley Lake valleys are pretty strong this morning.  In addition, it will take longer for the sun to reach a high enough angle to pierce through the smoke to warm up the ground than it did earlier in the summer.  We may not start to see significant improvement in these areas until noon or later.

The benefit of inversion break is going to be undercut by the presence of smoke from Oregon, northern California, Washington and Idaho that is hanging overhead across the entire region.  The pooled smoke will lift up, but the visiting smoke will come down.  Still, conditions in Florence, Lolo and Seeley Lake should be significantly better this afternoon than they were this morning.

Outside of our most impacted communities, the air is Unhealthy in Missoula, Clearwater Junction, Clinton, the Arlee/Evaro area, and the Potomac Valley (conditions in the Potomac Valley may be worse than Unhealthy.  There is a lot of Liberty Fire smoke pooled in that valley this morning).  It's likely to get worse before it gets better.  We're starting to see inversions breaking in the larger valleys, and when that happens, we will see an influx of local and out-of-state smoke.  Conditions will remain Unhealthy and may become Very Unhealthy at some monitors.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

We will be under stable atmospheric conditions for most of the day.  There is a chance we will see some relief late this afternoon from convective lift and some projected breezes, but I don't expect to see much improvement until pretty late in the day, if at all.  It's getting harder for convection alone to overcome the influence of the high pressure when the days are getting shorter and the temperatures are taking longer to heat up.  The National Weather Service is predicting afternoon winds kicking up shortly after 12:00 p.m., which would be awesome, but I'm not seeing that optimistic forecast on any other predictive site or the models I look at.  The more general consensus is some increased breeziness starting around 5:00 p.m. associated with an incoming cold front.  I hope Weather Service is correct, and we will have strong winds to scour the valleys clear.  But for now, I think we should plan on crummy air quality for most, if not all of the day.

The high pressure will finally start breaking down tonight, and tomorrow afternoon we are looking at strong, sustained winds from a passing cold front.   This will provide the opportunity for a real break from the smoke.  It will be a great time to open your windows, air out your lungs, circulate fresh air through your HVAC and automobile air conditioning, etc.  Unfortunately, the break will be short-lived.  We are seeing more high pressure heading our way this weekend, and it will last into at least the beginning of next week.   Also, the strong winds from the cold front are likely to lead to increased fire activity, and there is the risk of new fire starts from passing thunderstorms.

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/.

The fires were really active last night, and that has led to significant smoke impacts in valleys near the fires.

August 23, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

The region is blanketed with out-of-state smoke, and we are seeing pooled smoke near the Lolo Peak, Liberty and Rice Ridge fires. 

August 23, 2017 morning color satellite

August 23, 2017 morning zoomed out satellite photo

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: August 23, 7:00 p.m.

As of 7 a.m. Wednesday, air quality is Moderate in Alberton.  Air quality is Unhealthy in Missoula, Frenchtown, Condon, Clearwater Junction, Arlee, and Clinton.  Air quality is Hazardous in Florence, Seeley Lake and Lolo.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Conditions may improve later this afternoon as temperatures warm up and smoke is able to leave the valley floor.  Strong winds in the forecast should help scour valleys clear of smoke in the evening.  However, there is likely to be widespread and fluctuating smoke impacts across the county today.

Because smoke conditions can change rapidly and vary widely based on location, wind, fire flare ups and proximity to fires, the department encourages individuals to use visibility as a guideline to help gauge air quality at a given time and place and take appropriate precautions.  If you can’t see 5 miles, the air quality is Unhealthy.  More smoke information is available at http://www.missoulacounty.us/airquality/.  

For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, access Montana’s “Today’s Air” web site.


 

UPDATE: August 22, 5:45 p.m.

Well, the temperatures went up, but the smoke has been only grudgingly leaving our breathing space.  The atmosphere was really stable this afternoon, and conditions in Missoula are still Unhealthy.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

I'm holding out hope that we will still see some improvement before this evening.  Temperatures are continuing to rise and there are actually some pretty decent wind gusts at higher elevations. If the smoke can lift a bit more we may still get some decent clearing.  However, we should brace ourselves for the possibility that convection may not be able to overcome the high pressure's influence over our smoke situation today.

Also, this is where I need to turn into the harbinger of doom and sadness.  First off, there is a lot of smoke hanging over our heads right now.  It looks vaguely overcast, but it isn't.  If you look up, what you see is all smoke.  If we don't get any clearing, there's a decent chance that smoke is going to come down to ground level this evening.  I know I say this might happen all the time, but for realsies, we could see worsening smoke impacts tonight from the overhead smoke.  This is why I'm hoping for some clearing and assistance from winds at higher elevations to whisk the smoke away before it can mix back down to our breathing space.  

Second, Oregon and California are coming for us.  I know I haven't really mentioned Oregon or California before, but that's because their fires haven't been sending smoke our way.  Until now.  There's a big old multi-state plume that is curving up into Washington, picking up Washington smoke, swinging around into Idaho and heading our way.  It's likely to end up over our heads this evening.  If we're super lucky it will hold off until after the atmosphere stops mixing and it won't be able to land on us.  But I'll be honest with you - I don't think we're that lucky.  It's maybe an hour or two away, at most.

Meanwhile, we've seen quite a bit of fire activity on the Lolo Peak, Liberty and Rice Ridge Fires this afternoon.  We're starting to see Lolo Peak smoke move northeast, where it may cause deteriorating air quality in the Potomac Valley, Greenough and Clearwater Junction this evening.  The Liberty Fire has been going great bananas today, and it's putting out a lot of smoke, which may impact Seeley Lake and Salmon Lake this evening.  I expect to see Liberty Fire smoke pooling in the Arlee/Evaro area, the Potomac Valley, and Greenough overnight.

The Rice Ridge smoke is mostly headed for the Bob Marshall wilderness, but it will descend into the Seeley Lake valley tonight.

The Sunrise Fire has been less active, but it may impact communities along the I-90 corridor overnight.

The fires in Idaho woke up around 2:00 p.m., and they're starting to send smoke into the Bitterroot Valley.  This will only add to Florence and Lolo's woes tonight.

Currently, we are still seeing smoke impacts across the county, but the worst smoke did eventually lift out of Lolo, Florence and Seeley Lake.  It took a long time for the inversions to break, and that is going to be the trend going forward.  Granted, we had high pressure today, which makes the inversions worse, but the nights are going to keep getting a little bit longer, which means the sun won't be at a high enough angle to break the inversion until later in the morning.  Also, as evening temperatures get colder, the inversions will get stronger.  We will likely see many more satellite photos of smoke-filled valleys in the coming days.

Seeley Lake was starting to approach Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups air quality this afternoon, but then the same winds that tend to help clear the area delivered some fresh smoke to the valley floor, and conditions in Seeley Lake are Unhealthy.  Conditions in Lolo are Unhealthy and Florence has Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups air quality.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

The Holland Lake area did not have as nice a day as expected (conditions are Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups), but Condon cleared out nicely this afternoon, and now has Moderate air quality.

Frenchtown and Alberton have had air similar to Missoula's today.  They started out better, but the overhead smoke mixed down and conditions have been generally Unhealthy or Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups all afternoon.  I'm still holding out hope for a little bit of lifting before evening.

We have seen some decent improvement in the Arlee area, where conditions are currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. 

There may be smoke impacts across the county tonight due to the influx of Oregon/California/Washington/Idaho smoke.  (It's a multi-state smoke whammy).  This region-wide smoke impact will be added to by our own, locally generated smoke.  Overhead Lolo Peak smoke may land back down in Missoula and Frenchtown tonight, which would lead to substantial haze in these areas and deteriorated air quality.  If the smoke is still on the ground late tonight, it will likely be with us in the morning, as well.

Expect significant smoke pooling in valleys near active fires.  Conditions in Lolo, Florence and Seeley Lake are likely to be Very Unhealthy or Hazardous by morning.  Conditions in Arlee, the Potomac Valley and Greenough may be Unhealthy or worse.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

Tomorrow morning will look much like today did, only possibly starting out with even worse air quality across the county.

The good news is we are going to see some honest-to-goodness atmospheric mixing starting Wednesday evening.  Mixing heights are going to rise, which will help smoke move up and out of our breathing space, and there is the potential for strong, gusty winds in the evening that should help scour smoke out of the valleys.  Thursday will bring more strong winds and the potential for thunderstorms.  So look for some breathable air, but also increased fire activity and potential new fire starts.  Looking further ahead, high pressure is going to be setting back up this weekend, which means significant smoke impacts will be back, potentially with a vengeance.

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/.

The fires have been mighty active today, which is resulting in a lot of smoke trapped under a pretty stable atmosphere.

August 22, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

There's a lot of smoke being produced by our fires today, and there's far more of it still stuck overhead than any of us would like to see.  This means we may see significant overnight smoke impacts across the county.  The most severe impacts will be in valleys near active fires.

August 22, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

The smoke whammy approaches!  I'm not going to lie - as we watched this plume move across the country on the GOES 16 satellite loop this afternoon, your other friendly local air specialist and I sang Ride of the Valkyries (badly - it may have sounded like out-of-tune kazoos.  We have fun.)  You should give it a try!  It will still fill you with trepidation, but everything's better with a soundtrack! http://col.st/NfEmX

August 22, 2017 zoomed out afternoon satellite photo

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: August 22, 10:00 a.m.

Smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire  settled in the Bitterroot Valley yesterday evening, and Florence and Lolo have been filled with smoke ever since. Air quality is currently Hazardous in both these areas.  The smoke in Florence and Lolo is really bad, you guys.  It's not quite Seeley Lake bad, but it's close.  It is important that folks living in the Florence and Lolo areas take measures to protect themselves from the smoke.  One of the best ways to do so will be to use a HEPA air filter to create a clean space to serve as a refuge with breathable air.  I have attached the HEPA air filter handout that was produced by Climate Smart Missoula.  It is getting harder to find filters in town, so it may necessary to purchase one online.  Also, be wary of filters that are undersized for the rooms they are in and make sure to check and double check the size of particulate that a unit can handle.  A lot of less expensive filters will not filter out the fine particulate in wildfire smoke.  If you use a HEPA filter to create a clean space, it must filter particulates that are less than 1 micron in diameter.  The particulate in wildfire smoke is super, super tiny and will not be effectively removed from the air in your home unless you have the proper filter.  Smoke is going to continue to impact Florence and Lolo for the forseeable future.  The levels may fluctuate a bit more than we're seeing in Seeley, but this is still a very serious smoke event.  Please take steps to protect yourself and your family.  There is some useful wildfire smoke tips on our website on the Climate Smart Missoula website.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

It took a few hours, but some of the Lolo Peak smoke started to nudge its way into the Missoula Valley in the early morning hours, and since 7:00 a.m., we've started to see rapidly deteriorating air quality in the Missoula area.  In addition to the smoke that made its way in along the valley floor, there is a lot of smoke overhead.  When the inversion breaks, Missoula air quality is likely to plummet.  Conditions in Missoula are currently Unhealthy, and may continue to worsen through the morning hours.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

For Florence and Lolo, on the other hand, breaking up the inversion will mean some relief from the pooled smoke in the valley.  Granted, some of that pooled smoke will then move into Missoula before lifting up, which is sad for those of us living downstream from the Bitterroot, but we should be happy for our friends to the south if it means they get some improvement from the smoke soup they've been living in all morning.

The Bitterroot Valley will see smoke from Idaho this afternoon, so while conditions should improve from Hazardous, there will be continued smoke impacts today.

Conditions in Seeley Lake are Hazardous again this morning.  Smoke from Rice Ridge Fire is trapped in the Seeley Lake valley and it has been building for hours.  This is the 17th morning with Hazardous air quality in Seeley Lake since August 1st.  Conditions will improve when the inversion breaks later this morning. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

We are seeing some Rice Ridge smoke moving north over the Swan Valley, so while air quality is currently Good to Moderate in the Condon and Holland Lake areas, they are likely to see some smoke impacts later this morning.  It should be a brief influx of smoke with concentrations potentially reaching Unhealthy levels in Holland Lake before clearing out.  In general, though, the Swan Valley should have a pleasant day. 

The Liberty Fire is continuing to show overnight activity, and it is sending smoke to pool in the Arlee/Evaro area and the Potomac Valley.  The air quality in Arlee is Unhealthy, and it looks like it is Unhealthy  or worse n the Potomac Valley this morning.

Frenchtown and Alberton currently have Good to  Moderate air quality, but there is a fair amount of smoke hanging overhead in that area, and they may see conditions deteriorate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups or worse later this morning.

We don't have a monitor in the Rock Creek or Beavertail area at the moment (it should be back later this week), but from the satellite photo, it's save to assume that if they aren't seeing smoke right now, they will be soon.

This morning is going to be smoky.  There is high pressure over the area, which means (1) inversions are lasting longer (bad news for folks near active fires) and (2) it will take longer for smoke to leave the valley floor after the inversion breaks and the initial mixing is over (bad news for everyone else).  However, we will also see pretty warm temperatures this afternoon, and that should help overcome some of the atmospheric stability.  Smoke should lift up later today, and while there's a good chance there will be haze and localize smoke impacts, there should be significant improvement for most areas of the county.

We're seeing a pattern change starting tomorrow.  The high pressure is breaking down and we will see greater atmospheric mixing during the day and a slight chance of thunderstorms in the evening.  The morning will likely still be awful, but we may see some relief from the smoke in the evening and heading into Thursday.  More high pressure is on the menu for the weekend, so if we get clean air on Thursday, go outside and enjoy it.

My fire-specific Inciweb links have been causing some systems to view these emails as spam, so here's a nice, clean link to Montana incidents: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/.

The Lolo Peak and Liberty fires were both active last night:

082217_AM fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

Smoke was trapped in all of our valleys this morning, and you can see the murky overhead haze of smoke that's coming down to get us in the next hour or so.  Also, I don't know if this is as exciting for you as it is for me, but we're sending smoke to Idaho!  (In an unpopulated area, happily.  I'm not a monster).  Every year we get smoke from the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, but today we gave some back!

082217_AM color 

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

Check out these amazing shots of Lolo Peak Fire smoke from Shannon Edney!  Thank you, Shannon!!

Lolo Peak Fire August 21 2017

Lolo Peak Fire 2

UPDATE: August 22, 7:30 a.m.

As of 7 a.m. Tuesday, air quality is Good to Moderate in Alberton, Frenchtown and the Swan Valley.  Air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups and will likely become Unhealthy by mid-morning in Missoula and Arlee.  Air quality is Very Unhealthy in Florence and Hazardous in Seeley Lake and Lolo.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Conditions may improve later this afternoon as temperatures warm up and smoke is able to leave the valley floor.  However, there is likely to be haze and some air quality impacts throughout the county today.

Because smoke conditions can change rapidly and vary widely based on location, wind, fire flare ups and proximity to fires, the department encourages individuals to use visibility as a guideline to help gauge air quality at a given time and place and take appropriate precautions.  If you can’t see 5 miles, the air quality is Unhealthy. 

For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, access Montana’s “Today’s Air” web site.


 

UPDATE: August 21, 5:00 p.m.

We're seeing some nice clearing around most of the county this afternoon thank to convective lift.  As temperatures rose, the smoke was able to lift up out of our breathing space and conditions are generally Moderate across Missoula County.  We've lost touch with the Lolo monitor in the last hour, but based on how nicely the smoke in Florence cleared out at 3 p.m., it's probably safe to assume Lolo has seen some improvement as well.

Our outlook for tonight and tomorrow morning is very similar to what we saw last night and this morning.  It's Groundhog Day, only with wildfire smoke and fewer groundhogs.

The smoke that lifted up this afternoon has not gone very far.  It is overhead and will start to descend this evening, and we will likely start to see deteriorating air quality as the evening wears on. Also, some of the new smoke that's being generated by the Lolo Peak Fire (which woke up a few hours ago) is likely to impact Florence, Lolo and Missoula this evening. 

Florence and Lolo may also start to see smoke from Idaho Fires this evening.  It took the Idaho fires a while to start putting together plumes that can reach the Bitterroot, but they've made progress, and smoke that crosses the border will end up in the Bitterroot Valley tonight.

The Lolo Peak, Liberty and Rice Ridge fires are all putting out a fair amount of smoke this afternoon, but it's not really going anywhere just yet.  As fire activity increases, the plumes will have a better chance of reaching the transport breezes which, while pretty slow today, should still move some of the smoke toward the east.  (There's unfortunately a pretty good chance some Lolo Peak smoke will land on the Clinton and Rock Creek areas this evening).

Look for smoke pooling near active fires overnight, with the most severe impacts in Seeley Lake, Lolo and Florence.  Conditions at these locations will likely be Very Unhealthy or Hazardous by morning. 

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  

The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

The Arlee/Evaro area and the Potomac Valley are likely to see smoke impacts from the Liberty Fire in the morning.

Missoula will most likely start the morning with some haze, and then will face an influx of Lolo Peak Fire smoke once the inversion breaks.  Conditions will be very similar to what we saw today.  

The Sunrise Fire isn't generating a ton of smoke (yet), so Frenchtown and Alberton may dodge some overnight and morning smoke. (Frenchtown, Alberton and Condon had the best air in the county today.  Maybe we could borrow some?)

We are still under a high pressure ridge, which means morning inversions may take longer to break than usual, and the effect will be magnified in narrow, smoke-filled valleys.

There should be some pretty decent smoke clearing tomorrow afternoon.

If you want to see something really cool, and you aren't sick of eclipse mania, the GOES 16 satellite captured the moon's shadow moving like a giant black blob across the country today.  It's really cool, you guys.  Also, if you zoom in on Missoula, you'll notice you can still see smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire through the entire thing.  That's determination! Here's the link to the loop with the moon's shadow: http://col.st/Ja8MS

Check out the sluggish plumes from this afternoon.  This photo is from 4:15 p.m.  The Lolo Peak Fire is basically creating a smoke blob that is hanging over the northern Bitterroot and southern Missoula valleys.  It's never good to see a smoke blob lurking over your breathing space.

August 21, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

 

UPDATE: August 21, 1:00 p.m.

Smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire started filling the Missoula Valley shortly after 8 a.m. this morning, and we reached Unhealthy smoke levels at our Missoula monitor by 11:00 a.m.  We are still seeing significant smoke impacts in the Missoula area and conditions are now Very Unhealthy.  At 1:00 p.m., our 1-hour average PM2.5 concentration in Missoula was 223.4 ug/m3.  That is bad air.  It is still better air than what we saw in Lolo or Seeley Lake this morning, but it is bad air.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

There should be some relief this afternoon as temperatures increase and the smoke is able to leave the valley floor

There have been improvements in Florence, Lolo and Seeley Lake, but these areas are not yet out of the smoke.  Air quality in Florence is now Unhealthy.  Air quality in Lolo and Seeley Lake is Very Unhealthy. We should continue to see improvements this afternoon.

While conditions should improve across the county when smoke finally starts to lift up and our of our breathing space, the smoke will not be able to lift very far, and we are likely to see it come back down in the evening.  Smoke from actively burning fires will lift off the ground, but with low mixing heights and slow transport winds, there's a good chance a lot of the smoke that is produced today will end up in our valleys tonight.  As fire activity increases this afternoon, folks in the Bitterroot Valley will see additional smoke headed their way from fires burning in Idaho.

 

UPDATE: August 21, 9:00 a.m.

Depending on where you are, you either woke up to nice air or chewable air.  Conditions at our monitor in Missoula (located at Boyd Park, near the fairgrounds) were Moderate this morning, but if you look south you can see an immense swath of smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire sliding into Missoula.  It’s following the Bitterroot River, and folks living near the river saw thick smoke hanging just overhead this morning.  When the inversion breaks, they will be the first to notice.  The smoke that’s currently hugging the mountains south and west of Missoula will mix down and air quality will plummet.  We are likely to see some of that smoke make its way to the more central part of Missoula later this morning.  Conditions in Missoula may become Unhealthy.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Wildfire smoke doesn’t behave like our winter air pollution.  While winter air pollution is generally evenly distributed, wildfire smoke can be confined to just one part of the valley and miss our monitor entirely.  This is why it’s important to use situational awareness during a wildfire season.  Pay attention to the air in your surroundings and know that it’s very possible the smoke at our monitor is not representative of what you’re experiencing.  If you can’t see for 5 miles, the air quality is Unhealthy.

The Lolo Peak Fire is most significantly impacting Florence and Lolo.  Air quality is Very Unhealthy in Florence.  Air quality was Hazardous in Lolo this morning, and is trending toward Very Unhealthy.  The Lolo Peak smoke is trapped under an inversion, and it may take some time for it to break out.  Conditions should improve once the smoke lifts, but first the sun needs to get high enough to reach the valley floor through the thick smoke. Thanks to the building high pressure and relatively strong inversion in the Bitterroot Valley, the smoke may be trapped for a few more hours this morning.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

The Liberty Fire was actively burning last night, and it is sending smoke toward the Potomac Valley.  Conditions there may be Unhealthy.

The Rice Ridge Fire continues to pour smoke into Seeley Lake every night, and air quality is once again Hazardous in the Seeley Lake valley.  It’s not a competition, but the smoke in Seeley Lake is technically twice as bad as the smoke in Lolo this morning, and has been for 16 of the past 21 days.  The latest 1-hour PM2.5 concentration in Seeley lake is 645.7 ug/m3.  Lolo topped out at 331 ug/m3 at 6 a.m. this morning.  The smoke in Lolo is horrible.  The smoke in Seeley Lake is worse. The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

Conditions in the Swan Valley are currently Moderate, but they are likely to see some Rice Ridge smoke later this morning when the inversion breaks.  Air quality in the Holland Lake area may become Unhealthy, but it should improve by the afternoon.

Air quality is currently Moderate in Frenchtown and Alberton, but we may see deteriorating conditions later this morning when overhead smoke from the Sunrise Fire mixes down.  Smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire may also follow the river all the way to Frenchtown.

We are entering a period of atmospheric stability, which means the smoke isn’t going to go very far today.  There will be widespread smoke impacts later this morning when locally generated smoke mixes down.  We are looking at pretty warm temperatures today, so there may be some nice convection to lift the smoke out of our breathing space this afternoon, but I’m not expecting especially dramatic smoke clearing.  There will likely still be significant haze even during the warmest part of the day, and there may be localized Unhealthy smoke impacts around the county.

 

The Liberty Fire showed activity last night:

 082117_am fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

There is cloud cover making some plume identification tricky on the western part of the color photo (see below), so here's the black and white photo from this morning:

082117_AM bw 

http://www.ssd.noaa.gov/goes/west/wfo/mso/cvis.jpg

Here's the color photo.  If you look past the clouds, you can see smoke trapped in the valleys.

082117_AM Wildfire Smoke

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: August 20, 6:00 p.m.

Smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire cleared out of Florence nicely right around noon, but by 2:00 p.m., air quality was once again Unhealthy.  Conditions are likely to continue to deteriorate tonight and may become Very Unhealthy in the next several hours as overhead smoke descends and new smoke gets trapped in the valley.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

It took a while, but outside of Florence, we're finally seeing air quality improvements (even in Lolo!).  Conditions are generally Moderate across Missoula County.  (Frenchtown has been waffling back and forth between Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups and Moderate for a few hours now, but I'm leaning toward Moderate for the next hour.  Famous last words.)

Conditions across the county will start to deteriorate this evening when atmospheric mixing shuts down and smoke starts descending toward the valley floors.

It could get hairy tonight, folks.  The cloud cover that has so generously provided pleasant temperatures this afternoon is going to start dissipating by midnight, as are any significant breezes.  We're looking at cool, calm conditions tonight and that means there will be strong inversions and significant smoke pooling near active fires.  Tomorrow morning, the Arlee/Evaro area may have Unhealthy air quality from Liberty Fire smoke. Air quality in Florence and Lolo may be Very Unhealthy, and we are likely to see Hazardous conditions in Seeley Lake.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

Any smoke that's left in our breathing space when atmospheric mixing shuts down this evening will still be with us in the morning, so while Missoula may dodge the worst of the overnight Lolo Peak smoke (if the inversion plays to our favor again), we will still be waking up with worse air than we did this morning.

Tomorrow morning is going to start off bad for folks near active fires, and by mid-morning it will be bad for almost everyone else, as well.  Overhead smoke will mix down once the inversions break, and then it is going to stick around.  We will be under a building ridge of high pressure, which means inversions will last longer into the day, and even after the inversions break, the smoke isn't going to go very far.  There will be hardly any air movement until noon.  By mid-afternoon there should be some benefit from convection, but with as stable of an atmosphere as we're looking at, I'm not expecting a very dramatic improvement in air quality.  Along with the high pressure, there will be very light surface and transport breezes.  So while smoke that is generated by local fires will lift off the ground, it won't go very far, and the smoke that's still at ground level is not very likely to be lift up effectively or be scoured away.  Expect widespread haze and localized smoke impacts ranging from Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups to Unhealthy.

Seeley Lake should still benefit the most from their inversion breaking.  Unlike Florence and Lolo, Seeley Lake does not tend so see smoke from the fire on the hill during the day.  However, it may take longer than usual for Seeley Lake's inversion to break on Monday, and there's a good chance there will still be some smoke lingering near ground level during the afternoon.

Tuesday is not looking any better than Monday, and may, in fact, be a little bit worse.  Conditions may start to improve on Wednesday as the high pressure ridge breaks down. Our next real shot at smoke clearing is likely to be on Thursday when the flow aloft shift to the southwest and another cold front swings through the area.  We're looking at strong, sustained winds and possible thunderstorms starting Thursday afternoon.  Good for smoke, bad for fires.

There are ways to protect your health during a wildfire smoke event.  There are some recommendations available at one of our wildfire smoke webpages.  Climate Smart Missoula has some nice resources and even a map of places you can go during the day to get out of the smoke: http://www.missoulaclimate.org/wildfire-smoke.html.

Fire activity today wasn't as intense as we've seen (thanks, clouds!), but there is still smoke rolling off the local fires.  Because we are so close to the active fires we are still going to see smoke impacts on days without a lot of fire activity.  There is still heat on the ground and smoldering, skunky fires still send smoke into nearby valleys at night. 

August 20, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

 

 

UPDATE: August 20, 10:00 a.m.

The air quality in Missoula was good this morning, but only for a few hundred feet.  If you looked up, or say, tried to look at a mountain, you could see smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire hanging above  us, ready to come down and ruin breakfast.  Typically, inversions are bad.  We go on about the pollution trapped under the inversion in Missoula so often that it's become part of Missoulians' vernacular.  ("The Inversion" is a recurring team name in one of my hockey leagues.  True story.)  And if you look at Seeley Lake or Florence this morning, you can see that yes, those inversions are bad and causing terrible air quality.  In Missoula, however, the stratification created by the inversion prevented Lolo Peak smoke from entering our breathing space (until the inversion breaks, which it's starting to do as I write this.  Then all that smoke will come crashing down.)  Hooray Missoula inversion!

Update: Air quality is now Unhealthy in Missoula.  One would think that after cheering for an inversion it would be nice and stick around for a few minutes, but nope!

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

We are likely to see smoky conditions in Missoula until later this afternoon when convective lift helps move the smoke up and some nice northwesterly breezes (hopefully) arrive to push away whatever remains.  We're entering a period of more atmospheric stability, though, so I don't want to promise clean air by 4 p.m.  It should, however, be less awful than this morning.

Missoula was not alone in having breathable air this morning.  Conditions were also Good to Moderate in Frenchtown, Rock Creek and the Swan Valley.   Air quality in these areas will deteriorate as overhead smoke mixes down this morning.   Also, Rice Ridge smoke that's trapped in the Seeley Lake valley may lift up and hit the Holland Lake area once the inversion breaks in Seeley Lake.  Smoke impacts should be pretty temporary for the Swan Valley - conditions should improve relatively quickly and there aren't any significant smoke sources headed that way at the moment.  Aside from some potential Canadian haze, it should be a pretty ok air day in the Swan.  If Rock Creek ends up under the Lolo Peak plume again, they may have continued smoke impacts throughout the day.

Smoke from the Sunrise Fire may mix down and create Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups conditions in Frenchtown and the Ninemile area, but at the moment, if you're in Missoula and looking for relief from the smoke, head west.

Smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire is filling the Bitterroot Valley in Florence.  Air quality in Florence was Very Unhealthy this morning and is starting to improve to Unhealthy as the inversion breaks. We've lost touch with the Lolo monitor, but conditions in Lolo may be similar to what we're seeing in Florence.

When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

Conditions in the Bitterroot should continue to improve this morning as temperatures rise and smoke is able to leave the valley floor.  However, there may be continued smoke impacts this afternoon due to surface winds being generally from the direction of the Lolo Peak Fire and transport winds sending Idaho smoke to the Bitterroot Valley.

Rice Ridge Fire smoke is, once again, filling the Seeley Lake Valley, and conditions in Seeley Lake are Hazardous.  This is the 15th morning of Hazardous air quality in Seeley Lake since August 1st.  As a reminder, when the NowCast hits 250 ug/m3, we classify an area as having Hazardous air quality.  At 8 a.m., the NowCast was 547.9 ug/m3 - more than twice what we already know to be Hazardous.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

When the inversion breaks later this morning, Seeley Lake will see a rapid air quality improvement.

If you look closely at the satellite this morning, you can see some Rice Ridge smoke starting to work its way down drainages that don't lead straight to Seeley Lake.  As the Rice Ridge Fire moves farther east, there are likely to be increased smoke impacts in the Clearwater Junction/Ovando area from smoke that rolls down and settles in the Cottonwood and Dunham Creek drainages.

The Liberty Fire sent smoke into Arlee this morning, where conditions are Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  There is also smoke from Liberty in the Potomac Valley and Clearwater Junction.  Conditions in these valleys may also be Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups or worse.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Overall, expect fluctuating air quality this morning.  When inversions break we should see some improvement in valleys that are filled with pooled smoke, but there will be deteriorating air quality in valleys that are enjoying little pockets of good air quality underneath smoke-filled skies.  We are all likely to see smoke at some point this morning.  Conditions should improve later this afternoon due to convection lifting smoke up and out of our breathing space.

However, the improvement will be temporary.  Look for more smoke tonight when smoke starts to descend to the valley floors.

Also, don't forget about Canada!  There is still northwest flow aloft that is escorting Canadian smoke closer to Missoula County.  When it arrives, there may be increased haze throughout the area.

There was some overnight fire activity, but not as much we've seen in recent days:

August 20, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

You can see smoke filling valleys around the region.  Note the Rice Ridge smoke that's moving up the Swan Valley and also east toward Ovando.  There is a small cloud over the Sunrise Fire smoke.  There is a little bit of smoke over the Ninemile and Frenchtown area, but it's not as thick as that cloud makes it out to be.

August 20, 2017 morning satellite photo

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

Check out the stratification in Missoula this morning!  We were in a nice pocket of clean air until almost 9 a.m.

August 20, 2017 morning in Missoula

Photo credit: Sarah Coefield


 

UPDATE: August 19, 6:00 p.m.

The afternoon winds arrived and delivered a return to fresh air to most of Missoula County.  These winds are mighty strong.  I haven't seen any houses flying by or heard a farm girl calling for her auntie, but I'll keep you posted.

Conditions were Good to Moderate at all of our monitors this afternoon except Rock Creek.  Smoke swamped the Rock Creek area all day, and conditions there were Unhealthy until 5:00 p.m.  Smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire lifted off the valley floor this morning and air quality in Lolo and Florence has been generally Good to Moderate since lunchtime.  Unfortunately, the smoke has to land somewhere, and while we are sending a lot of smoke toward eastern Montana, a fair bit ended up in Rock Creek.  It's hard to see precisely what's happening to Rock Creek from the satellite photo (there is a fair bit of cloud cover today), but it is possible they also saw some smoke from the Sapphire Complex.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

The smoke in Rock Creek has finally started to move off, and air quality is currently generally Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups and trending toward Moderate.

This has been a lovely break from the smoke for the rest of us, but it's our last real break to be seen in the near forecast.  Winds are going to start dying by midnight tonight, and they are not coming back anytime soon.  We're going to be entering a period of increased atmospheric stability, which means smoke will not be able to leave our area with the enthusiasm and gusto we've enjoyed for the past couple days.  (Get it?  GUST-o? Sorry.)  

Surface and transport wind speed is going to plummet, and our air quality may follow right along (surface winds help scour the valleys clear, and transport winds, which are at higher elevations, whisk the plumes away).  The worst impacts will be overnight and in the morning hours, and in general, the smoke we produce will be staying closer to home than it has for the last couple days.

A lot of the smoke impacts that we are going to see will depend on topography and proximity to active fires.  If, for example, the Sunrise Fire calms down, its smoke impacts may be largely confined to the I-90 corridor near the fire.  This could be bad news for Alberton, but Frenchtown may have some decent air.  If the Liberty Fire skunks along and can't put up a decent plume, we may see smoke rolling down into Arlee and the Potomac Valley (and possibly Clearwater) in the evenings.  Seeley Lake can expect to see Hazardous breathing conditions in the mornings due to Rice Ridge smoke becoming trapped under the inversion.  If the bulk of the Rice Ridge fire activity and smoke production moves over the ridge east of Seeley Lake they may start to see a bit less smoke in the mornings, but for now, there is still fire activity and smoke production on the Seeley Lake side of the ridge, and mornings will continue to be awful.

Florence, Lolo and the southern end of Missoula are likely to see significant overnight smoke impacts from the Lolo Peak Fire.  The fire is burning very hot right now, and that will help keep some of the smoke off the valley floor.  If the fire can build a column high enough to keep reaching the transport winds, smoke will be transported out of the area, even overnight.  However, smoke columns start losing lift at night, and some smoke will get trapped under the inversion.  And of course, smoke from fires in low lying areas will be produced under the inversion in the first place.  Without surface breezes to help clear that smoke away, air quality in Florence and Lolo is likely to suffer tonight.  We may see air quality plummet to Unhealthy or Very Unhealthy conditions by morning. 

Smoke impacts on the southern end of Missoula are a bit trickier to suss out.  When the Lolo Creek Fire hit in 2013, Missoula had about one or two bad air quality days from that fire.  Afterward, the smoke was really confined to the Lolo area.  The Lolo Peak Fire is its own beast, though.  It is burning in the Hwy 93 corridor as opposed to just the Hwy 12 corridor, so it may have an easier path to Missoula.  Because of this, I do expect some smoke impacts in Missoula.  Our super light northwesterly surface breezes may not be sufficient to keep Lolo Peak smoke at bay overnight. 

Even if we do hold off the surface-level smoke that wants to head our way from Lolo, there will be smoke overhead in the morning from the Lolo Peak Fire.  We can expect that smoke to mix down and cause potentially Unhealthy air quality in Missoula by mid-morning.

We will continue to have generally westerly and northwesterly flow aloft through at least Monday.  There are still fires burning in Canada and Washington, and we may see some haze delivered to our area.  Most of the smoke that would be headed our way is currently over Washington and northern Idaho, and may take a day to get here.

The worse impacts will continue to be in the morning.  Even with some atmospheric stability in the mix there should be some benefits from convective lift in the afternoons.  In most parts of the county, the smoke should lift up off the ground by mid-afternoon.  If Rock Creek continues to be positioned downwind of active plumes, folks there may continue to see lousy air quality.

Generally westerly transport winds means the Bitterroot Valley will continue to see smoke delivered from Idaho.

The Lolo Peak Fire has continued to grow near Hwy 12 and Hwy 93:

August 19, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

Cloud cover is interfering with some plume identification, but you can see the large amount of smoke being generated by the Lolo Peak Fire this afternoon.

August 19, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

Oh, hello Canadian smoke. We remember you!  Note that there is smoke swinging up toward eastern Montana from fires in Oregon and California.

August 19, 2017 zoomed out satellite photo

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

Here's another shot of smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire from Shannon Edney.  Thanks, Shannon!

August 18, 2017 Lolo Peak photo by Shannon Edney

 

UPDATE: August 19, 9:30 a.m.

Seeley Lake's chances of breathable air this morning were only as good as the forecast of sustained overnight winds.  We lost the wind before midnight and the smoke rolled in around 2:00 a.m.  Smoke is now trapped under a strong inversion and air quality is currently Hazardous in Seeley Lake.  Conditions will improve later this morning when the inversion breaks.  The forecast is still calling for strong west winds today, which, if they kick up this morning, will help speed the clearing process.  Unfortunately, any winds today will die down by midnight tonight, so Seeley Lake is looking at continued Hazardous morning air quality.  An earlier forecast suggested they'd have another shot of strong overnight winds tonight, but that has been downgraded to light breezes. 

The longer this continues, the worse the health ramifications for folks who are living in and breathing the smoke.  These smoke levels are dangerous for anyone with heart or lung disease, pregnant women, children and anyone over 65 years old.  We know there has been an uptick in residents showing serious symptoms from smoke exposure.  The best way to protect yourself from this kind of smoke is to get out of it entirely.  If that's not an option, create a clean space in your home with a HEPA filter that can filter out particulate that is less than 1 micron in diameter.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

The Lolo Peak Fire was very active last night.  The infrared flight from last night has resulted in an estimated gain of about 9,000 acres since yesterday (check out the map on Inciweb).  There is a wall of Lolo Peak smoke south of Missoula.  The smoke had enough lift to stay above Lolo and Florence until about 5:00 a.m. this morning, but now we're seeing some of that smoke fall down to the valley floor.  Conditions in Lolo and Florence were Unhealthy at 7:00 a.m. this morning.  By 8:00 a.m., conditions in Florence had continued to deteriorate.  Lolo, on the other hand, saw some improvement and was Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  Conditions in Lolo and Florence will fluctuate today.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Rock Creek has been living under a plume of smoke since yesterday, and conditions there are still Unhealthy.

Elsewhere in Missoula County, the air quality is pretty good.  Conditions in the Swan Valley improved overnight, but Holland Lake and Condon may start to see some Rice Ridge smoke later this morning when the inversion starts to lift and the smoke can tip over into the Swan.  If the westerly winds arrive, that will push the Rice Ridge smoke back over the Bob Marshall Wilderness, but the Swan Valley may then be looking at incoming smoke from the Blue Bay fire and possibly also the Sunrise Fire.  Currently, conditions are Good to Moderate in the Swan Valley. 

The Liberty Fire was pretty active last night, and continues to have a plume drifting across the landscape this morning, rather than one trapped in a valley.  The Clearwater Junction monitor stopped reporting, but there's a decent chance they're being impacted by Liberty smoke this morning.  Because the Liberty smoke is so actively headed east, Arlee is enjoying some nice, Moderate air quality.

Missoula and Frenchtown both dodged the bulk of the Sunrise Fire's plume, and currently have Moderate air quality.  There is some smoke overhead that may start to mix down later this morning. Conditions in Frenchtown may become Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups this morning, but will likely clear out when the winds arrive.

The concern for Missoula right now, is what happens with the Lolo Peak smoke.  The inversion is starting to break and there are, I kid you not, periodic southerly breezes headed up the Bitterroot Valley.   We may see some of that massive churning smoke drifting into Missoula later this morning (even with calm breezes, the air will naturally move from the Bitterroot to Missoula).  If the smoke shows up, air quality in Missoula is going to plummet.  We are still supposed to have strong west winds this afternoon, but until they show up and push the smoke out of the valley, it's all Lolo Peak all the time.  If we're super lucky, the wind will show up before the smoke does.  (We are actually supposed to be having strong west winds in Missoula right now, but that is clearly not happening.  To be fair, there is quite a bit of wind up on the mountain tops.  So it's here, it's just not *here*.)

The Missoula County folks most impacted by Lolo Peak smoke are those living under the plume (Lolo and Florence) and downwind of the plume (Rock Creek).  Lolo and Florence are in for poor air quality this morning, but as the fire gains momentum this afternoon there should be enough heat to lift the plume off the valley floor.  This, combined with convective heating and surface breezes, should provide some hours of cleaner air for folks right next to the fire.  Unfortunately for Rock Creek, they will continue to be under the plume.  They may benefit from convective lift and breezes today, but the odds are pretty good that smoke will continue to be a factor in that area as long as the plume is pointed that direction.

Now, I am clearly on Team Wind when it comes to temporary air quality benefits.  However, we are likely to see another very active fire day.  There is a red flag warning over the Lolo Peak Fire today, and we may see continued substantial fire growth this afternoon and evening.  This means more smoke will be generated, and when we stop having strong winds in the forecast (i.e. about midnight tonight), we will be living with that smoke on a daily basis.  The good news for Lolo, Florence and Missoula, is that we shouldn't see the kind of endless Hazardous air quality that we're seeing in Seeley Lake.  There is more room for the smoke to spread out and there are more escape points for the smoke in the Missoula/Bitterroot corridor than in the Seeley Lake Valley.  However, there may be periods of Very Unhealthy and Hazardous air quality in the future.

Be aware that we're headed toward some high pressure next week, which is about the last thing you want when you have a giant plume of smoke in your backyard.  It will be a short-lived ridge, but there may be some very smoky days ahead.  That being said, it will be prudent to prepare for continued (and worsening) smoke impacts.  I've attached a handy flyer about HEPA air filters to this email.  As smoke becomes more of an issue, it will be a good idea to create a clean space in your home with breathable air.  I've also attached outdoor activity guidelines.

I haven't talked about Idaho yet, but you should know the fires in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness are also picking up.  These fires will deposit smoke into the Bitterroot Valley every afternoon while we're still under westerly flow.  We're supposed to start to see a shift to southwesterly flow later next week, which means that smoke will be headed toward Missoula.

There was a lot of activity on the Lolo Peak Fire last night.  I mean, just a lot. 

August 19, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

Clouds are obscuring some of our smoke view, but they are also moving across the sky pretty quickly, which means some of that wind may come down to help clear out smoke where it's trapped.  Also, note that not many valleys are choked with smoke this morning.  There were actual plumes in the morning rather than pools of smoke.  Seeley Lake, of course, is the exception to this trend.  Smoke pooled in Seeley Lake creating Hazardous air quality this morning.

August 19, 2017 morning satellite photo

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

The Lolo Peak Fire plume tipped over last night, but didn't impact air quality at our monitors in Lolo and Florence until about 5:00 a.m.

August 18, 2017 Lolo Peak Smoke


 

UPDATE: August 18, 5:55 p.m.

Quick follow-up.  I just got a chance to look out a window that looks at the outside world, and Missoula's air quality has dramatically improved since the last time I visited that window.  Please disregard the UNHEALTHY from the previous post for Missoula.  The winds have arrived, and conditions are probably already improved to Moderate.  My notes about a potential mixed bag tonight still stand.  The winds may keep us clear, or they may deliver smoke to our breathing space.  Stay safe and breathe safe.

UPDATE: August 18, 5:30 p.m.

Some days in this business, you are betrayed by meteorology.  We saw air quality reach Unhealthy levels at most of our monitors this morning, but the winds kicked up, convective lift set in, and for the most part, we are seeing excellent smoke clearing around Missoula County this afternoon.  Conditions are generally Good to Moderate in Lolo, Florence, Frenchtown, Clearwater Junction, Seeley Lake, Holland Lake, Arlee, Condon and Alberton.

And then there's Missoula (and Rock Creek).

The smoke did not clear out of Missoula this afternoon.  Instead of the strong west winds we were promised, we were instead granted some nice, light southerly breezes that delivered Lolo Peak Fire smoke to the valley.  We've had persistently Unhealthy air since 10:00 a.m.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

It's not terribly unusual to see southerly breezes in Missoula.  After all,  we are down-drainage from the Bitterroot Valley, and air flows downhill.  (That's right.  "Flows."  Air acts like liquid, ya'll.) Yesterday, we saw light southerly breezes that lasted from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., so perhaps it shouldn't be surprising to see so much Lolo Peak smoke in the valley this afternoon.   (The main difference is that yesterday we had decent lift in Missoula.  Today the smoke has struggled to leave the valley floor despite good mixing heights and warm temperatures.) I still believe that when the cold front starts truly passing by in the next few hours, the winds associated with its passing will overcome the down drainage effect we are currently experiencing in Missoula and scour the valley.  Conditions should still improve in the next few hours.  If, of course, the winds materialize.

As for Rock Creek, they are under the Lolo Peak Fire's plume, and there has not been sufficient lift or air movement  to keep the smoke from settling into the valley.  Rock Creek may benefit from increased winds this evening.

The fires are all extremely active today and they are sending impressive plumes across the skies.  As the wind increases we will see more smoke produced by these fires.  A lot of the smoke will remain overhead and drop down on areas downwind of us, but there will still be smoke impacting air quality around Missoula County.  The main air quality benefit of these strong winds will be that we shouldn't see much smoke pooling in the valleys.  The smoke that ends up in the valleys should keep moving along, which will prevent intense smoke buildups.

Smoke from the Liberty Fire is impacting Salmon Lake and can be seen over Seeley Lake.  This smoke may cause some deteriorating conditions in Seeley Lake as it descends into the valley.  If the strong overnight winds in Seeley Lake's forecast materialize, the Liberty Fire smoke should not build up under the inversion.  I'm also remaining hopeful that the strong west winds will overcome the Rice Ridge Fire's attempts at settling into the Seeley Lake Valley.  (Theoretically, a strong west wind should keep the Rice Ridge smoke headed toward the Bob Marshall Wilderness.  Theoretically.)  Seeley Lake should avoid Hazardous conditions, but they may reach Unhealthy or Very Unhealthy overnight.

The Sunrise Fire is sending smoke toward the Swan Valley, and fires in Idaho are sending smoke to the Bitterroot Valley.  The Blue Bay Fire is sending smoke over the northern Swan Valley.  

These plumes may shift direction and become more distinctly headed to the east later this evening.  We may see Sunrise Fire smoke delivered to Missoula later tonight.

Air quality is likely to be a mixed bag tonight and tomorrow morning.  Areas next to active fires may continue to benefit from smoke that gets good lift generated by heat from the fire this evening.  That smoke lifts up and zooms off to land of folks downwind.  However, there is the possibility that the strong winds will actually force some of the smoke down into the valleys.  If this happens, conditions will deteriorate.  There is also likely to be some smoke ending up in the valleys when temperatures cool down and the plumes start to collapse.  Those of us who are not only adjacent to fires, but also downwind of fires may see additional smoke impacts.

I'm expecting Florence, Lolo and the southern end of Missoula to see smoke impacts from the Lolo Peak Fire as well as moke from the Idaho fires is landing in the Bitterroot Valley and making its way north to the Florence area.  Conditions may become Unhealthy or worse.  Smoke impacts for the Ninemile, Alberton, and Frenchtown areas will depend on how the Sunrise plume shifts with the wind.  Arlee and Evaro may see Sunrise smoke tonight.  Potomac Valley, Clearwater Junction, and Salmon Lake may see smoke impacts from the Liberty Fire tonight.

If you want to see something cool visit this GOES-16 site and watch the plumes grow: http://weather.cod.edu/satrad/exper/?parms=pacnorthwest-02-48-0.  It's kind of amazing.  A little terrifying, maybe, but also amazing.

The fires were extremely active this afternoon, and they will see more activity this evening.  Plan for more smoke in the coming days and stay safe.

August 18, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

So many giant plumes!  Typically, the plumes don't start to look like this until later in the evening.  This photo is from ~4:30 p.m. 

August 18, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

UPDATE: August 18, 9:30 a.m.

It looked and smelled worse than it was in Missoula this morning. Conditions at our Missoula monitor were Moderate at 8:00 a.m. this morning.  If you woke up thinking the air must be terrible and you're confused by the Moderate designation see the discussion below.  In the time it's taken to prepare this update, conditions in Missoula have deteriorated to match your morning expectations, and conditions are now Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  

You can see the smoke hanging low overhead and smell and feel and taste the volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) coming off the Lolo Peak Fire (smoke provides a true multisensory experience).   We monitor fine particulate matter (PM2.5), because that is the primary health concern from the wildfire smoke, and the particulate hadn't made it down to breathing level this morning.  There are a lot of other nasty things in the smoke, though, and that was what you were waking up to in Missoula.  VOCs can cause scratchy, burning eyes and throats, headaches and upset stomach.  The closer you are to the fire, the  more likely you are to experience the full smoke bouquet, and the Lolo Peak Fire is pretty darn close.

The Lolo Peak and Sunrise fires were both active last night, and there is quite a bit of smoke overhead from these fires. 

The smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire over Florence, Lolo and the south end of Missoula is going to continue to mix down this morning, and conditions are likely to plummet pretty quickly.  Conditions will fluctuate between Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups and Unhealthy in the Missoula Valley this morning.  Conditions in Lolo and Florence are already Unhealthy due to smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire, and the air quality may continue to deteriorate this morning.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Smoke from the Sunrise Fire is lingering over Alberton, Huson and Frenchtown.  This smoke is also likely to reach the valley floor later this morning.  The Alberton monitor stopped reporting at 5 a.m., so I don't have a good handle on current conditions.

The Liberty Fire has once again sent smoke to pool in the Arlee area, the Potomac Valley and Clearwater Junction.  Air quality is currently Unhealthy in Arlee and may also be Unhealthy in the Potomac Valley.  Conditions are Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Clearwater Junction.  Conditions in these locations may improve when the inversion breaks and the smoke can start to lift up off the valley floors.  Also, some of that smoke may be from the Lolo Peak Fire.  Check out the satellite photo below.  There's smoke everywhere.

Smoke from the Rice Ridge Fire is pooled in Seeley Lake this morning, and conditions there are currently Hazardous.  Once again, the Rice Ridge Fire is confined to the Seeley Lake Valley.  We are seeing Good to Moderate air quality in the Swan Valley.  Seeley Lake will see rapid improvement by noon.  There is a chance that once the smoke from Seeley Lake starts to lift up, it will spill over into the Swan Valley and conditions there will deteriorate a bit this morning.  The strong afternoon winds in the forecast should prevent conditions from getting too dire in the Swan.  

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

While we are looking at smoky conditions for the morning, by this afternoon we will see strong winds that should scour smoke from the valleys.  An incoming dry cold front is going to cause gusty west winds that will start to pick up right around noon.  The strongest winds will be here from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., but even when the strongest gusts die down, there should still be a strong sustained wind across the area.  This is great news for smoke - it should be forced out of our breathing space until the winds die down.  (The caveat here is that we may just see smoke delivered quicker into our breathing space from fires upwind (in this case, we're talking about the Sunrise Fire).  Typically, a strong breeze is enough to prevent smoke from being trapped in the valleys around Missoula County.)  The wind is deadly serious news for the fires.  We are likely to see a lot of fire activity over the next couple days.  The winds that start this afternoon are not going to die off until early Sunday morning, and there are more sustained gusty winds expected on Saturday.  This  means that when the winds do settle down, we may see a lot of new smoke in our breathing space and significantly deteriorated air quality.  For now, there should be impressive plumes visible around the valleys.  Overnight, we may see some of the smoke from the plumes dip down into our breathing space, but there shouldn't be as significant of a pooling effect as we would see without the wind.

Seeley Lake stands to benefit the most from the coming winds.  The few decent nights in Seeley Lake this month have been due to strong overnight winds from a passing cold front.  Seeley Lake has a shot at a couple nights with breathable air, and the expected winds are in a beneficial direction for the Rice Ridge Fire.    Once the inversion breaks this morning, Seeley Lake make be looking at some of the better air quality they've seen all month.  They may see some smoke delivered from the Liberty Fire, but it shouldn't have much opportunity to settle in the valley.

The flow aloft will be primarily from the west after this afternoon, so if we're going to see smoke that isn't from Montana it's more likely to be from Washington than Canada.  Currently, there isn't much headed our direction from either location.  The Bitterroot Valley will continue to see smoke headed their way from Idaho.

Here's the rundown from our monitors are 9:00 a.m. this morning:

Missoula - Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups

Frenchtown - Moderate

Lolo - Unhealthy

Florence - Unhealthy

Arlee - Unhealthy

Rock Creek - Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups

Clearwater Junction - Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups

Seeley Lake - Hazardous

Rainy Lake - Moderate

Condon - Good

The Lolo Peak and Sunrise Fire were both quite active overnight:

August 18, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

Smoke from the Lolo Peak and Sunrise fires spread out over Missoula County.  There is some Rice Ridge smoke headed up the Swan, but it's currently hugging the mountains.  This smoke may cause some deteriorating air quality in the Condon area later this morning.

There isn't anything headed our way from out of state right now, but we are sending smoke toward Eastern Montana.  Also, check out the smoke trapped in Idaho valleys.  As we get later in the year, we will see the Idaho valleys really clearly defined in the mornings due to smoke trapped under inversions.

August 18, 2017 morning zoomed out satellite photo

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

The Lolo Peak fire sent out a tremendous amount of smoke last night.  This photo was taken by the Health Department's very own Shannon Edney.  Thank you, Shannon!

August 17, 2017 Lolo Peak Fire


 

 

UPDATE: August 17, 5:00 p.m.

Good afternoon,

I'm headed up to Seeley Lake, so this will be a quick and dirty update.

We saw smoke mix down this morning and conditions in Missoula hit Unhealthy air quality right around noon.  The smoke lifted up for a couple hours, but we're starting to see conditions deteriorate in both Missoula and Lolo.  Missoula just hit Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups and air quality in Lolo is Unhealthy.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Interestingly, Florence currently has Good air quality.  The Lolo Peak Fire is sending out a pretty good plume and it's still narrow enough at its source that Florence is completely out of it (for now).

Outside of Lolo and Missoula, we are seeing Good to Moderate conditions throughout Missoula County.

We should have northwesterly breezes all evening, which may be sufficient to keep most areas relatively clear of smoke.  Missoula, Lolo and Florence may have the earliest smoke impacts tonight when smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire starts to lose its lift and falls down to the valley floors.  We're already starting to see some of the smoke that lifted this afternoon make its way back down.  Also, Idaho fires are sending smoke to the Bitterroot this afternoon, and Florence may be hit by that smoke in the next few hours.

Look for smoke pooling overnight in Lolo, Florence and the southern end of Missoula.  The inversion over Missoula should break shortly after sunrise, so early morning conditions may not be too bad.  Narrower valleys will likely see smoke for a longer period of time.

Seeley Lake has the dreaded "light and variable" wind forecast after midnight tonight.  The light breezes, clear skies and cool temperatures mean there will be a pretty strong inversion by morning.  Smoke from the Rice Ridge Fire will pool under the inversion and conditions in Seeley Lake are likely to be Hazardous. 

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

Things are going to get a little hairy tomorrow.  There is a red flag warning and we are going to be entering a couple days of very strong and gusty west winds.  There will be active fire behavior and significant smoke production.  Stay tuned and stay safe.

The active fires are sending out plumes that cover most of Missoula County

Wildfire Smoke Plume Image

UPDATE: August 17, 10:00 a.m.

I am ok with getting last night's morning smoke forecast wrong when it means a lot of folks woke up to cleaner-than-expected air.  There is still quite a bit of smoke overhead and we are seeing some smoke pooling (most significantly in Seeley Lake), but by and large most of us had generally Moderate air quality this morning.  This is, of course, likely temporary.  There is smoke overhead from the Sunrise and Lolo Peak fires that is starting to mix down.  Based on the tremendous amount of smoke being generated by the Lolo Peak Fire this morning, air quality in Missoula, Lolo and Florence could plummet pretty significantly.  The air quality in Missoula was Moderate at 9 a.m., but was already trending toward Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  By 10:00 a.m., we had reached Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups and you could smell the smoke in downtown Missoula.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Conditions in Missoula, Lolo and Florence may become Unhealthy later this morning. When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

As I'm sure you're all aware, the Lolo Peak Fire was very active last night.  Wildfires can produce their own weather, and last night that resulted in an impressive pyrocumulus cloud that towered over the smoke plume.  We are still seeing cumulus clouds above the plume this morning.  Pyrocumulus clouds can cause winds to gust in different directions than might otherwise be expected, which creates additional firefighting challenges.  Fortunately for folks near the fire (if one is purely concerned about smoke), the heat from the active fire is providing enough lift to keep most of the smoke off the valley floor.  One of the quirky things about living directly adjacent to a large fire is there are times when you have much better air than the folks who are downwind.  We saw this with the Roaring Lion Fire - Hamilton had surprisingly ok air quality right after that fire blew up because the smoke lifted up and traveled across country before landing on some poor, unsuspecting folks miles away.  Smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire has been hitting the poor, unsuspecting denizens of Butte and Helena since last night.  Conditions at our Florence and Lolo monitors were a generally pleasant Moderate this morning, but are currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  Air quality in Florence and Lolo is likely to continue deteriorating this morning as the overhead smoke mixes down.  

The Sunrise Fire is primarily impacting folks along the I-90 corridor west of the fire (conditions are Unhealthy in Superior).  However, there is some Sunrise smoke lingering overhead near the Ninemile, and we are starting to see conditions deteriorate in Alberton.  Air quality in Alberton is currently trending toward Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.

The Liberty Fire produced less smoke last night than the night before, and we aren't seeing very many impacts in areas down-drainage from the fire.  It does look like some of its smoke made its way to Clearwater Junction overnight, however, and air quality in Clearwater was Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups this morning.

The Rice Ridge Fire was not particularly active overnight, but it still sent a lot of smoke to Seeley Lake.  The smoke produced by the Rice Ridge Fire funnels into Seeley Lake overnight via the Morrell Creek drainage and it gets trapped in the valley under the inversion layer.  As the fire continues to produce smoke overnight, the particulate concentration builds and air quality worsens.  The inversion in Seeley Lake is quite strong this morning. (The temperatures was 19 degrees colder at the lake than it was near the mountain tops this morning. Without an inversion, it would be warmer down at the lake than on the mountain.) Air quality is once again Hazardous in Seeley Lake.  For those who are counting, this makes 12 days of Hazardous morning air quality in Seeley Lake since August 1st.  Conditions will rapidly improve as the inversion breaks and smoke can lift off the valley floor.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

Our Rainy Lake monitor (near Holland Lake) was showing Good air quality until 10:00 a.m.  It is currently trending toward Unhealthy, and that tells me the Rice Ridge smoke is starting to lift out of Seeley Lake and start spilling over into the Swan Valley.  Conditions in Holland Lake and Condon are likely to deteriorate this morning.

There is some Washington and Canadian smoke that's being pulled into northern Idaho, and it is generally headed our direction.  If it arrives before this evening there may be increased haze and some smoke impacts throughout the region.  Surface and transport winds will generally be from the northwest today, so a lot of the plumes from our surrounding fires may dodge local communities.  The Bitterroot Valley is likely to see smoke from Idaho and the Lolo Peak Fire.

We are likely to benefit from convective lift and fairly strong breezes this afternoon. The smoke is starting to mix down this morning, but there should be some hours with decent air quality by mid-afternoon.  Basically, air quality is going to fluctuate today.

Tonight could get interesting.  There is likely to be a lot of fire activity today, both from the fires themselves and burnout operations by the firefighters.  For example, if conditions permit, there will be a burnout operation on the Rice Ridge Fire today.  This is an important firefighting strategy, but it does mean there will be more smoke produced today than what might otherwise be expected.  There is some high pressure today, and that means the smoke that lifts up this afternoon may just come back down tonight and join new smoke from the day's fire activity.  It could get smoky this evening, but I think the surface breezes may serve as enough of a mitigating factor that the worst impacts won't hit until after midnight.  Famous last words, perhaps, but it's good to dream.

The Lolo Peak and Sunrise fires were very active last night:

August 17, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

There was some smoke trapped in valleys this morning, but the Lolo Peak plume was running free.  Note that there are clouds mixed in with the plume near the fire.

August 17, 2017 morning satellite photo

There is smoke moving toward us from Washington and Canada (mostly Canada).

August 17, 2017 zoomed out morning satellite photo

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

The Lolo Peak Fire as seen from Missoula's Northside last night:

Lolo Peak plume, August 16, 2017

Photo credit: Sarah Coefield

UPDATE: August 16, 2017, 6:00 p.m.

Some nice convective lift saved us from prolonged Unhealthy air quality in Missoula this afternoon.  Conditions improved by 2:00 p.m., and we're currently enjoying Moderate air quality in Missoula and most of the county.   Our shiny brand new (temporary) monitor in Alberton just came online courtesy of the USFS Air Resource Advisor program.  We only have a few hours recorded, but it looks like conditions in Alberton are generally Moderate.

Air quality in Rock Creek is Unhealthy this afternoon due to smoke from local fires. When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Florence was at Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups until an hour ago due to both local and Idaho smoke.

And yes, Idaho has decided to join the mix.

Idaho has been biding its time for the past couple weeks, primarily choosing to smoke out the Bitterroot.  But really, we are equal opportunity smoke sufferers, so it's not terribly surprising Idaho came knocking.  We will likely see more Idaho smoke as the wildfire season wears on.  Next week it's looking like we may see a return to southwesterly flow aloft, which on the one hand will be nice, because it will help hold Canadian (and probably also Washington) smoke at bay.  Unfortunately, it will also deliver smoke from fires burning in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness right into Missoula.  That same southwesterly flow will potentially lead to more thunderstorms forming over the Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness, which could mean new fires positioned to dump their smoke into our breathing space.  We aren't yet in a position to rank Canadian smoke vs. Idaho smoke, but it will be an interesting competition. 

The atmosphere is going to stop mixing right around 7:00 p.m. again.  When this happens, we may see smoke descending to the valley floor in communities that spent the day downwind of fires.  Frenchtown, the Ninemile area, and folks along Hwy 93 N (Arlee and Evaro) may see Sunrise Fire smoke, and Missoula, Lolo and Florence may see Lolo Peak and some Idaho smoke.  I think there's a good chance some Liberty and Sunrise smoke may land in Seeley Lake this evening.  The evening winds are going to be pretty strong until about 8:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m., so that may help ward off some of the worst possible impacts.

Overnight, there will be light winds, clear skies and cool valley floor temperatures, which means inversions may be pretty strong by morning.  We can expect to see pooling smoke overnight in communities near active fires due to smoke from fires burning below the inversion layer, smoke from fires burning above the inversion that gets caught in a drainage and rolls underneath the inversion layer, and smoke produced from fires smoldering under the inversion layer.  It's really the inversion trifecta.

A thermal belt last night (warmer air at high elevations) led to the overnight fire activity that resulted in overhead smoke this morning.  If we see similar conditions this evening, there will be more overhead smoke in the morning that will mix down after the inversions break.

 

After inversions break, pooled smoke will start to lift, but overhead smoke from local fires will start to mix down.  This is, of course, complicated by the high pressure we see building on Thursday and into Friday.  The high pressure may mean it takes longer for the inversions to break in the morning, and when they do break, the smoke won't go very far.  The morning may be pretty smoky for a lot of folks.  I think we will benefit from convection and some decent surface winds in the mid-to-late afternoon.  The good news is that I'm still not terribly impressed with the smoke that's coming out of Canada.  The flow aloft will be pretty firmly from the northwest by tomorrow morning, which is the best bet for having Canadian (and some Washington) smoke pulled down to the Missoula area, but so far the most significant impact I would expect from that smoke is some added haze.

Tomorrow morning there may be pooled smoke in Florence, Lolo, the southern end of Missoula, the I-90 corridor from Ninemile to Superior, Rock Creek, Arlee, the Potomac Valley, and, of course, Seeley Lake.  Conditions may hit Unhealthy in most of the above locations.  Seeley Lake is likely to see a return to Hazardous air quality by morning due to Rice Ridge smoke becoming trapped in the valley under a strong inversion.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.

The fires were quite active today, and we can expect to see continued heightened fire activity in the coming days:

August 16, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

The Moose Creek 1 Fire in Idaho is sending smoke toward Florence and Lolo this afternoon.  The Chute Creek Fire (also in Idaho, directly across from Hamilton), is sending smoke over the Bitterroot.  You can see Idaho smoke pooled in the Bitterroot Valley. The plume from the Lolo Peak fire really took off this afternoon.  This photo is from the 5:00 p.m. satellite capture.

August 16, 2017 afternoon color satellite photo

Don't get too excited, but it's starting to look like we're sending Canada some homegrown Montana smoke.  Also, note that so far the Canadian smoke north of us is pretty light.  The Diamond Creek Fire in Washington is picking up steam, but may not be a factor for a little while.

August 16, 2017 afternoon zoomed out satellite photo

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

 

UPDATE: August 16, 12:30 p.m.

Welp.  It got bad out there, folks.  Air quality in Missoula plummeted faster than I anticipated, and we have Unhealthy conditions in town. Air quality is also Unhealthy in Lolo and Florence.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Frenchtown just hit Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, which was, at least, expected.  It's not good, it just isn't surprising.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

The smoke recently started to lift out of Seeley Lake, Condon, Rainy Lake and Arlee.  I'm still optimistic Missoula will also see some improvement this afternoon.  However, there may be more significant smoke impacts tonight.  I'll send out a more thorough update this afternoon.

Here are the recommendations for outdoor activity levels.

Breathe careful.

UPDATE: August 16, 9:00 a.m.

I have a lot of important stuff to tell you all this morning, but you guys, the satellite photo from this morning is amazing.  Seriously.  Scroll down, check it out, then come back up and read about what you just saw and what you can expect to see today.  Go ahead.  I'll wait.

Good?  Ok.  Let's get started.

When you got up this morning, did you see that brown haze obscuring the mountain tops?  That's the smoke that's been generated by the Sunrise and Lolo Peak Fires since last evening that's been hanging around right above the inversion layer.  It's not currently in our breathing space, but it will be soon.  That smoke is likely to mix down and cause air quality in the Missoula Valley to deteriorate within the next few hours.  We may still have some hours of decent air later this afternoon, simply due to gusty winds scouring the valley, but until that (hopefully) happens, we're likely to have some smoke where we want our air to be. Conditions in the Missoula Valley and Frenchtown may reach Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups by noon.

There was a lot of fire activity last evening, and we are seeing smoke pooling in valleys near the active fires.  Seeley Lake is, once again, swamped with smoke.  Conditions in Seeley Lake are Hazardous.  Again.  We all know the drill by now.  The thick smoke from the Rice Ridge Fire will start to lift up later this morning when the sun is able to penetrate through the smoke to warm up the ground, which will in turn warm up the layer of cold air that's currently trapping the smoke in the valley.  (This is how inversions break.) The inversion in Seeley Lake is pretty strong this morning, but there should be significant improvements by noon.  As a reminder, we consider air quality to be Good when the NowCast PM2.5 concentration is no more than 12 ug/m3.  The air quality is Hazardous when the NowCast hits 250 ug/m3.  At 8:00 a.m., the NowCast for Seeley Lake was 667.1 ug/m3.  

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.   

The smoke from the Liberty Fire has settled into the Arlee area, and conditions in that valley are currently Unhealthy.  The Liberty Fire has been growing into the Gold Creek drainage, and it looks like it's sending smoke to the Potomac Valley this morning.  Conditions in the Potomac Valley may be Unhealthy.  The Liberty Fire smoke also looks to be reaching Clearwater Junction, where conditions are currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  (I can't find the Liberty Fire on Inciweb today.  Its old link goes to the blue Bay Fire on Flathead Lake.  Here's a link to the Montana Inciweb: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/ )

Lolo and Florence are seeing smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire.  The air quality is currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups at those monitors, but it is trending toward Unhealthy and may hit that point later this morning.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Today, we will probably all see varying levels of smoke.  Conditions will be worst near the active fires - I expect some improvement for Lolo, Florence, Clearwater Junction, Arlee, the Potomac Valley and Seeley Lake, simply due to convection, but there will be smoke mixing down this morning, so these areas probably won't see complete clearing.  Seeley Lake will have the most significant improvement.

We are looking at west winds today, which means the Bitteroot Valley will see smoke headed their direction from fires in Idaho, and plumes from the Lolo Peak and Sunrise Fires will be visible from the Missoula Valley.  The Liberty Fire may send smoke toward Seeley Lake later this afternoon.  We are seeing a westerly flow aloft that is becoming more northwestern, and Canadian smoke is starting to visit the northern edge of Montana.  I'm not anticipating Canadian smoke in our mix today, but it is creeping toward us.

I think our best chance for smoke clearing in the Missoula area will be in the late afternoon when the pressure drops a tad and the winds pick up.  The strong winds, sunshine and warm temperatures mean we may be looking at increased fire activity today and more smoke tonight.

The fires were active last night:

August 16, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

The smoke from our local fires became trapped in valleys overnight.  Yes, that's all smoke.  I've labeled the only clouds.

August 16, 2017 morning color satellite photo

Canada smoke is making its comeback, but it unlikely to hit us for a while, yet.

August 16, 2017 morning zoomed out satellite photo

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.



U
PDATE: August 15, 6:00 p.m.

 

Some of the overhead smoke mixed down this morning and we had a couple campfire-y, extra hazy hours in Missoula with air quality that briefly reached Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  Fortunately, it was short-lived and air quality is generally Good to Moderate across Missoula County.  In addition, the smoke rapidly cleared out of Seeley Lake this morning, and conditions went from Hazardous to Unhealthy by noon, and then kept clearing out.  Conditions are currently Moderate in Seeley Lake.

We don't have a stock health message for "Moderate" conditions, because only particularly sensitive individuals are likely to be affected by the smoke.  However, residents of Seeley Lake have been living in a prolonged smoke event, with chronic exposures in the Unhealthy to Hazardous range for two weeks.  What does this mean?  It means that even when the air is not particularly awful in the afternoon, all Seeley Lake residents should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion.  The smoke is taking a toll on everyone's health, and there are not enough hours in the afternoon to effectively recover from the pollution that's filling everyone's lungs.  It is certainly a good idea to take advantage of breathing cleaner air while it's in town (particularly if it hits Good levels), but maybe don't go for a run.  Also, pay close attention to how your body is responding to the smoke and seek medical attention if you experience symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure.

We will have some nice breezes this evening, but the smoke is likely to start descending to the valley floors after 7:00 p.m. when atmospheric mixing grinds to a halt.  Tonight we will have calm winds and cool temperatures which means there will likely be smoke pooling near active fires, particularly Lolo, Florence, Arlee, the I-90 corridor near the Sunrise fire, the southern end of Missoula, Rock Creek, and Seeley Lake.  If this sounds familiar, that's because it is.  The conditions this evening are very similar to what we saw last night, only maybe a little bit worse.  It's the Speed 2 of smoke, if you will.

The fires surrounding Missoula County were actively burning today, and we are seeing quite a bit of smoke on the horizon.  There's also more overhead smoke today than yesterday, so we're starting the evening with more smoke than we did last night.  We may see conditions hit Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups around Missoula and Frenchtown this evening, but the most significant morning smoke impacts should be limited to communities near active fires.

Overnight conditions may become Unhealthy in Lolo, Florence and Arlee.  Seeley Lake is likely to see Very Unhealthy or Hazardous air quality in the early morning hours.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.   Please note that the Red Cross Shelter in the Potomac Valley is on stand-by and can be ready to go with an hour's notice.  Anyone seeking to stay at the shelter may call the Red Cross of Montana at 1-800-272-6668.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

There is some high pressure starting to build up tomorrow, which means the morning's smoke is likely to create hazy conditions.  It should be able to lift up off the valley floor once the inversion breaks (because convection is awesome), but it might not go very far once it's overhead.  Any smoke that's left overhead will join whatever new smoke moves into the area tomorrow afternoon, and tomorrow night conditions may start to deteriorate on a larger scale than what we're seeing this evening.  The twist in this scenario is the forecast of gusty afternoon winds.  We may see some valleys scoured of smoke, but we may also see increased fire activity and more smoke to deal with overnight.  Overall, I'm expecting tomorrow to be like today, only you know, a little bit worse.  The real question will be what the winds mean for air at breathing level in the early evening hours.

The flow aloft over the wildfires in British Columbia is starting to become more northwesterly, and we may see some Canadian smoke by Thursday (possibly sooner).  However, so far the smoke coming out of the Canadian fires looks a bit less oppressive than what we've previously seen.  I'm primarily anticipating increased haze. Of course, we may also start to see Washington smoke as the week goes on, so that could make things a bit more interesting.

Our surrounding wildfires all saw some activity today, and there is a new fire in Idaho right across from Hamilton.  I don't have any information about this fire other than it is burning hot enough to be picked up by MODIS and it will send smoke into the Bitterroot Valley.  Because that's just how Idaho fires roll.

August 15, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

There are quite a few visible plumes on this afternoon's photo, but the scattered clouds at varying heights can make it tricky to pick out what's smoke and what's cloud.  This link: http://col.st/0l6C7 leads to the GOES 16 satellite loop that I grabbed this still from.  If you visit it and rock the slider forward and back, you can get a good feel for the difference between smoke and clouds.

August 15, 2017 afternoon satellite photo 

 Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: August 15, 8:00 a.m.

Smoke from the Rice Ridge Fire has been funneling in Seeley Lake all night, and it's currently trapped under a pretty strong inversion.  Conditions in Seeley Lake are currently Hazardous.  At 7:00 a.m.,the 1-hour average PM2.5 measurement was 480 ug/m3.  The smoke is likely continue to accumulate for at least a couple more hours before the inversion starts to break and the smoke can lift up and out of the valley.  Once the smoke lifts, there will be a rapid improvement in air quality.

The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.   Please note that the Red Cross Shelter in the Potomac Valley is on stand-by and can be ready to go with an hour's notice.  Anyone seeking to stay at the shelter may call the Red Cross of Montana at 1-800-272-6668.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Elsewhere, we are seeing some smoke pooling from the Lolo Peak Fire.  Conditions in Lolo and Florence are Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (UHSG), and are trending toward Unhealthy.  Lolo and Florence will see some more smoke this morning, but should see improvements by noon.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Air quality is generally Good to Moderate for the rest of Missoula County. 

We have monitors in Clearwater Junction, Seeley Lake, Rainy Lake (near Holland Lake), and Condon to track the Rice Ridge smoke and understand its impacts to the folks living in the Seeley and Swan valleys.  Frequently, when there is smoke in Seeley Lake, we see some smoke at the Condon and Rainy Lake monitors and pretty decent conditions at Clearwater Junction.  This morning, however, the air quality at the Clearwater, Rainy Lake and Condon monitors is basically Good.  The incredibly thick smoke in Seeley Lake is trapped by the mountains surrounding the Seeley Lake valley and pinned down under the inversion. This is why we're concerned about Seeley Lake - even when the rest of Missoula County is seeing pretty decent air and the smoke from other local fires is limited to creating UHSG conditions for nearby communities (i.e. Lolo and Florence this morning), Seeley Lake continues to be hammered by Rice Ridge smoke.  While the mechanics of how and why this keeps happening are understandable and amazing to witness (because science!), it is a serious concern for the people who are living and sleeping in the smoke.  There has already been an increase in folks visiting the health clinic with respiratory distress.  Particulate is a cumulative pollutant, and the longer this continues, the worse the outcomes for the folks who are breathing the smoke.  At this point, some mornings it feels like there's more smoke than air in the Seeley Lake valley.

Lecture over.

Looking toward this afternoon, there will be active fire behavior today, so there will be plumes visible for most folks in the county.  I'm expecting the smoke to remain overhead until this evening, and we aren't seeing Canadian smoke quite yet, so by the mid-afternoon, we may have some pleasant hours of breathable air county-wide.

This update is a bit early and the satellite photos are still mostly dark.  Hopefully there will be fun photos for your viewing pleasure by the afternoon!

 


 

UPDATE: August 14, 6:00 p.m.

Air quality in Seeley Lake improved by noon, and we've had generally Good to Moderate conditions throughout Missoula County ever since.

If you ignore the giant brown plume of smoke pouring out of the Lolo Peak Fire, it's been a beautiful day, really.  The sky is blue, the clouds are fluffy, and if you face the right direction, you can pretend it doesn't look like Mordor on the horizon.

Hopefully everyone got to go outside and enjoy the clean air.  Or at least opened a window.  If not, do it now, because change is on the horizon (literally, if you think about it).

This evening we are looking at some strong northwest breezes that should keep the smoke at bay until after 7:00 p.m.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the atmosphere is going to stop mixing right about that time, and the smoke that's overhead is going to start making its way to ground level.  Look for smoke pooling in areas near active fires overnight.  Clear skies and cold temperatures mean we may see some strong inversions by morning, and the light overnight breezes are unlikely to be sufficient to push smoke away.  

Lolo, Florence, the southern end of Missoula, Arlee, Rock Creek, Seeley Lake, and the I-90 corridor near the Sunrise Fire will likely see smoke in the morning.  I'm anticipating the most severe impacts in Seeley Lake.  

We may also start to see some Canadian smoke returning to western Montana tomorrow.  The southerly flow aloft that's been pushing Canadian smoke north is going to be replaced with a northwesterly flow that will start to pull the smoke back our direction.  It may take some time for the smoke to actually reach us, so I'm not anticipating any major Canadian smoke impacts for tomorrow.  The first indication of a return of Canadian smoke will likely be a general haze over the region.

This afternoon's satellite photo shows respectable plumes from the Sunrise and Lolo Peak Fires.  The smoke from the Sapphire Complex, Liberty and Rice Ridge fires is a bit less defined, but can be seen through the white clouds.

August 14, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

We're starting to see some fire activity that can be picked up by MODIS this afternoon:

August 14, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

And oh my goodness, look at that pretty monitor map!  Such happy greens and yellows!  These are the monitors at 5:00 p.m.:

August 14, 2017 air monitor map

Source: http://svc.mt.gov/deq/todaysair/AirDataMap.aspx

UPDATE: August 14, 8:00 a.m.

Good  news, everyone!  The air is as good as it looks and smells!  We're looking at generally Good to Moderate air quality everywhere but Seeley Lake.  Not only can you see the mountains, you can see the trees on the mountains.  It's always a good sign when you can see the trees on the mountains.

The cloud cover last night helped ward off strong overnight inversions, and with the exception of Seeley Lake, even areas that are near active fires have generally Good to Moderate air quality this morning.

Strong winds helped scour valleys clear of smoke yesterday, and we saw relatively minimal fire activity yesterday and overnight.  This has resulted in nice, breathable air for most of Missoula County.  This would be a good time to open things up and air out your homes.  It's also a good time to air out your lungs.

This is a nice respite, but the fires are not out.  If you look down toward Lolo, you can see the smudgy brown smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire high over the valley.  Normally, we would see that smoke at ground level in the morning.  So don't get comfortable.

Air quality is Unhealthy in Seeley Lake.  The Rice Ridge Fire wasn't particularly active yesterday, but it is still burning and it produced enough smoke for conditions in Seeley Lake to deteriorate in the early morning hours.  This helps underscore the trouble with Seeley Lake - even with a relatively weak inversion and minimal fire activity, the particulate concentrations in Seeley Lake are exceeding 100 ug/m3 this morning.  For Seeley Lake standards this wildfire season, that seems pretty good, but it is still bad air.  Fortunately, the inversion is pretty weak, and I expect the smoke in Seeley Lake should lift up and mix out later this morning.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. 

Today we are looking at surface and transport winds from the west and northwest and more fire activity today than yesterday.  As a result, we are likely to start seeing some overhead smoke later this afternoon when the Lolo Peak and Sunrise fires wake up and the breezes deliver the smoke to our area.  The smoke may not hit ground level until late afternoon or early evening.  Most areas should have pretty decent air quality for several hours today.

We are currently benefiting from southwest flow aloft over the Canadian wildfire smoke, which is sending the Canadian smoke north into the Northwest Territories.  Unfortunately, that pattern is going to start changing tonight, and we are likely to start seeing Canadian smoke headed back toward western Montana by Tuesday. 

I don't have any great pictures for today (the clouds are obscuring smoke and they also are preventing heat detection from the active fires).  Hopefully there will be more pretties available this afternoon.

 


 

UPDATE: August 13, 4:00 p.m.

The cold front with breezes has improved air quality across most of Missoula County.  The Canadian and Washington smoke has been pushed to the east but local fires may still impact communities throughout the county.  The most likely time to see smoke impacts will be tonight in Seeley Lake, Lolo, Florence and along the I-90 corridor.

At 3:00 pm air quality was at moderate throughout most of Missoula County.  The exceptions are Seeley Lake and Lolo where air quality is at Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  Check current air quality conditions throughout the state at Montana’s Today’s Air.

Because of the cloud cover, no smoke pattern was visible in the afternoon satellite images.  In the fire detection map below, most fires appear to have had minimal activity today.

081317_FireDetect_PM 

UPDATE: August 13, 9:00 a.m.

When you look up, you could see blue sky this morning in Missoula.  So at least the smoke depth is reduced from the last few days.  On this morning’s satellite image you can see that a band of clouds is approaching from the west and that smoke has actually cleared out in parts of Montana.  The red flag warning remains in effect through today and we can expect cooler temperatures.

081317_AM colorLabels

Sundays cold front should re-direct Canada’s smoke out of Missoula County’s air shed, but locally generated smoke from the Sunrise, Lolo Peak, Rice Ridge and other fires will continue to impact the county.  Generally, we should see improved air quality in parts of Missoula County Sunday with the potential of increased local fire activity and continued localized smoke impacts for the next few days.

As of 9 AM on Sunday, air quality for specific county locations are listed below.

Very Unhealthy:    Seeley Lake

Unhealthy:    Missoula and Condon

Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups:    Frenchtown and Florence

Moderate:    Lolo and Arlee

Check current air quality conditions throughout the state at Montana’s Today’s Air.

 


UPDATE: August 12, 4:00 p.m.

 

A red flag wildfire warning remains in effect for tonight.  Sundays cold front should re-direct Canada’s smoke out of Missoula County’s air shed for a few days, but locally generated smoke from the Sunrise, Lolo Peak, Rice Ridge and other fires will continue to impact the county.  Generally, we should see improved air quality in parts of Missoula County Sunday with the potential of increased local fire activity and continued localized smoke impacts for the next few days.

 

As of 4 PM on Sunday, air quality for specific county locations are listed below.

Unhealthy:    Arlee, Missoula, Frenchtown, Rock Creek, Lolo, and Florence

Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups:    Seeley Lake (Smoke levels are quite variable here, not sure what tonight’s winds will do for smoke at this location.)  Winds may blow the Rice Ridge smoke out of the valley for a day.

Moderate:    Condon and Clearwater Junction

Check current air quality conditions throughout the state at Montana’s Today’s Air.

The fire activity map below shows that the Sunrise, Lolo Peak and Hidden fires were very active today.  With winds out of the west to southwest expected after Sunday, we could see a lot of Montana made smoke next week in Missoula, Lolo and along the I-90 corridor.  The Bitterroot Valley will continue to see smoke impacts from the Hidden fire in Idaho.

081217_fire activity

In case you have forgotten, the satellite picture below in western Washington shows what clean air looks like.  If you look carefully, you can see the Sunrise and Lolo Smoke plumes even with all the Canadian smoke in western Montana.

081217_PMColor_Labels 

UPDATE: August 12, 9:00 a.m.

As of 9 a.m. on Saturday, air quality is Moderate at Clearwater Junction.  Air quality is Unhealthy in Missoula, Seeley Lake, Florence, and Arlee, and Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Frenchtown and Condon.  Air Quality could worsen to Unhealthy in Condon and Frenchtown later this morning before improving this afternoon.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Air quality is currently Very Unhealthy in Lolo. When air quality is Very Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion and stay indoors when possible, people with asthma should follow asthma management plan.  People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

The biggest news of the day is a change in weather.  The forecast below does have a red flag warning for wildfires, but the light breezes in the forecast for today with windier conditions on Sunday could improve the air quality for tonight and the beginning of the week in parts of Missoula County.  Of course, the increased fire activity could just mean more smoke later.  The Canadian and Washington fires will continue to send smoke our way which could impact Missoula County air quality for some time even after the winds pick up.  Even if air quality starts to improve this afternoon, expect hazy conditions to last.

20170812_WeatherForecast

UPDATE: August 11, 6:00 p.m.

The high pressure provided us with a monotonously awful air quality day around Missoula County.  The particulate pollution stayed relatively constant at every monitor, although we did finally see some improvement at the Lolo monitor right around noon.  (Because these days, pretty awful to slightly less awful is an improvement to be celebrated.)  Seeley Lake, as expected, had a dramatic clearing in the afternoon, but hasn't improved beyond Unhealthy air quality.

In fact, air quality remains Unhealthy across most of Missoula County.  Frenchtown finally lost the good fight and tipped over into Unhealthy air quality at 2:00 p.m.  It was a valiant effort, and we appreciate it, but between Canada and the Sunrise Fire, the odds were never in their favor.  The Rock Creek area is also dealing with Unhealthy air quality.  Their smoke started building up at noon.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. 

Our pockets of Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups air are in Clearwater Junction and the Holland Lake area.  Also, the Montana DEQ put a (temporary) monitor in the Holland Lake area!  Check out the Today's Air map: http://svc.mt.gov/deq/todaysair/AirDataMap.aspx. We are being positively spoiled with monitoring data, and it is awesome.

Particulate concentrations began climbing throughout the area in the late afternoon, likely due to a fun combination of Canadian smoke and smoke from the fires burning west to our west. (We see you, Sunrise Fire.)

We're seeing quite a lot of activity on the surrounding fires today.  Even the Liberty Fire, which has slowed way down, has new heat signatures showing up on MODIS.  The Canadian smoke and scattered puffy clouds are making plume detection a little tricky, but we're seeing the Hidden and Lolo Peak fires sending smoke over the Bitterroot Valley.  There is some smoke from the Sunrise Fire pointed straight at Frenchtown.  That smoke may very well end up in Evaro and Arlee this evening.

Atmospheric mixing is going to shut down pretty abruptly this evening, at which point the Canadian smoke should be cut off.  Unfortunately, we'll still be stuck with whatever additional smoke the local fires contribute to our air tonight.

I'm anticipating morning smoke impacts along the I-90 corridor (Alberton to Quartz Creek, and potentially also in Frenchtown), as well as some pooled smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire in Lolo, Florence and Missoula.  Smoke from the Liberty Fire will likely end up in Arlee by morning.    Air quality in these areas may be Unhealthy (or worse) in the morning.

The tremendously depressing National Weather Service prediction of "light and variable" winds in Seeley Lake after midnight, and then calm wind in the morning, means another smoky, smoky, night and morning for the valley.  Air quality in Seeley Lake is likely to be Hazardous by morning.

The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.   Please note that the Red Cross Shelter in the Potomac Valley is on stand-by and can be ready to go with an hour's notice.  Anyone seeking to stay at the shelter may call the Red Cross of Montana at 1-800-272-6668.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of a pattern change in the weather.  It also marks our first Red Flag Warning in a while.  It's a momentous day, really.  We will see a return to generally westerly surface breezes.  Transport breezes will also be primarily from the west, which means Sunrise Fire smoke will be all that more effectively delivered to Missoula.  Winds are going to start picking up in the mid afternoon, as will thunderstorm chances.  The winds will really get exciting starting on Sunday, when we may see gusts in excess of 20 mph.

These strong winds have the potential to scour the valleys free of smoke.  They also have the potential to cause significant fire activity, so we may just have new smoke delivered quicker and with more energy.  But I'm still hoping for some periodic clearing starting on Sunday.

Aside from the danger of the high winds on an active fire, Seeley Lake stands to benefit the most from this weather shift.  Strong overnight breezes from passing cold fronts have been the only solution to Seeley Lake's overnight smoke troubles. Currently, the strong winds are projected to die down after midnight most nights, but if the winds can hold on, there's a chance they will see some improved air next week.

The confounding factor to all this is still the Canadian smoke.  Also, the Washington Fires are becoming pretty lively.  The Diamond Creek Fire in Washington can't quite match its Canadian brethren when it comes to giant brown plume formation, but it's trying, and it's also sending smoke to join the Canadian smoke that's headed our way.  Idaho fires won't be much of a factor for those of us who are north of the Bitterroot for a while, yet.  However, the Bitterroot Valley will continue to see smoke from Idaho for the foreseeable future.

A quick heads up to those who plan to travel on Highway 12 - there have been hazardous driving conditions due to smoke buildup along the highway.  Proceed with caution.  Also, maybe don't breathe

Here is a guideline for outdoor activities.  As we head toward more smoke, it's time to start thinking about the smoke impacts on sports and practices.

I'm taking the weekend off (hooray!), but Ben will be here watching the air and sending out updates.  Thanks, Ben!!

Holy active fires, Batman!

August 11, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

Here's a satellite photo from a little before 3 p.m.  I chose this one because there are fewer clouds interviewing with our smoke viewing.  If you pop on over to the website (link below photos), you will see more impressive plumes, but also more clouds. 

August 11, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

Oh hey, there's a giant plume from Washington making friends with the Canadian smoke.   The Diamond Creek Fire is already the same size as the Little Hogback Fire:

August 11, 2017 zoomed out afternoon satellite photo

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

NASA's Worldview satellite photo doesn't update as often or as rapidly as the snazzy new GOES16 website, but it provides really nice views of wildfire smoke as well as heat detection overlays.  It's time to give it some love.  This photo is from this morning:

August 11, 2017 NASA Worldview satellite photo

UPDATE: August 11, 10:00 a.m.

The Canadian smoke that mixed down yesterday is still with us this morning, causing thick haze and air quality ranging from Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups to Unhealthy across most of Missoula County. 

Conditions are, unsurprisingly, worst at locations near active fires.  The Lolo Peak Fire hasn't been showing particularly aggressive behavior lately, but it is still consuming fuel and acreage, and creating smoke that pooled in Lolo this morning before creeping into Missoula.  Florence hasn't been hit as hard as Lolo, but there is still a lot of smoke in the area. Air quality is Unhealthy in Lolo, Florence and Missoula. 

Arlee is also dealing with being down-drainage of an active fire (the Liberty Fire), and is also seeing Unhealthy air quality this morning.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. 

Conditions are still somehow Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Frenchtown.  I was pretty sure it was going to edge up to Unhealthy by 9 a.m., but so far it's holding steady at the lower category.  There is still plenty of smoke in the Frenchtown area, it just isn't quite as oppressive at what we're seeing in other parts of the county. Air quality is also Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Rock Creek. 

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Air quality is, once again, Hazardous in Seeley Lake.  This makes nine Hazardous air quality mornings in the past 11 days for Seeley Lake.  And here's the thing - it's not just Hazardous.  The levels we're seeing are well beyond the cutoff for Hazardous.  We don't actually have a category for the level of particulates we're seeing trapped in the Seeley Lake valley.  Air quality for the 1-hour PM2.5 NowCast is considered Hazardous at 250 ug/m3.  At 9:00 a.m., NowCast was 600 ug/m3.  Yesterday, the NowCast was over 800 ug/m3. 

The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.   Please note that the Red Cross Shelter in the Potomac Valley is on stand-by and can be ready to go with an hour's notice.  Anyone seeking to stay at the shelter may call the Red Cross of Montana at 1-800-272-6668.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

The Rice Ridge Fire and Canadian smoke are also impacting air quality in the Swan Valley, where conditions may be Unhealthy or worse.

It's going to be a smoky day, folks.  There will be some natural convective lift by this afternoon, and the heaviest smoke from nearby fires should move up and out of the valleys, but any clearing will be hindered by surface high pressure that acts like a lid over the area.  I don't expect to see any dramatic improvements in most of Missoula County.  Seeley Lake should still see a rapid decrease in particulate concentration by noon, but they are unlikely to see clean(ish) afternoon air.  The Canadian smoke is relentless and will continue to be pulled into our breathing space throughout the afternoon.

In case you haven't already noticed, wildfire smoke is quirky, and is heavily influenced by topography.  The smoke in Seeley Lake is the worst we've ever seen, but it's generally confined to the Seeley Lake valley.  For several hours this morning, Clearwater Junction, just 14 miles south of Seeley Lake, had the best air in the county - a relatively pleasant Moderate, with PM2.5 concentrations in the 20s. Unfortunately, the air quality at Clearwater has started to deteriorate, possibly due to smoke that's slowly made it's way out of the Seeley Lake valley and moved downstream to Highway 200.   And of course, there's no escaping the Canadian smoke invasion.  Clearwater Junction, like the rest of us, will be coping with more Canadian smoke this afternoon.

We will start to see some northwest breezes this afternoon, but they will unlikely be sufficient to create any significant improvements in the air quality.  Looking toward the weekend, we may see strong enough winds to scour smoke from the valleys.  However, the wind will be largely from the west, which means our old stale Canadian smoke might just end up being replaced with the newer version fresh off the Sunrise fire.  Buy local, breathe local? 

Anyway.

The strong winds in the next several days may lead to increased fire activity, and increased smoke headed our way.  We are entering into a more typical weather pattern for this time of year, and it's the type of weather that we're accustomed to seeing during wildfire seasons - strong afternoon winds, thunderstorms and not much rain.  The season is still young.  It feels like we've been in smoke forever, but there may be several more weeks of this ahead.

Last night's fire activity, as detected by satellite (MODIS):

August 11, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

The smoke from our local fires hit some communities pretty hard this morning.  You can see plumes settling down into adjacent valleys.  (The thicker grayish white blobs under the overall grayish white morass are smoke plumes.  I promise.)

August 11, 2017 morning satellite photo

Canadian Smoke Invasion

August 11, 2017 morning zoomed out satellite photo

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

 UPDATE: August 11, 7:30 a.m.

As of 7 a.m. on Friday, air quality is Moderate in Rock Creek.  Air quality is Unhealthy in Missoula, Lolo, Florence, and Arlee, and is trending toward Unhealthy in Frenchtown.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Air quality is currently Hazardous in Seeley Lake. When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

The thick smoke near active fires will likely improve later this afternoon, but there will likely be continued smoky conditions through the day throughout Missoula County. 

Because smoke conditions can change rapidly and vary widely based on location, wind, fire flare ups and proximity to fires, the department encourages individuals to use visibility as a guideline to help gauge air quality at a given time and place and take appropriate precautions.  More smoke information is available at http://www.missoulacounty.us/airquality/.  

For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, access Montana’s Today’s Air web site.

UPDATE: August 10, 4:30 p.m.

We're headed up to Seeley Lake for this evening's community meeting, so this will be a quick and dirty update.

First off - it was kind of a scummy day, wasn't it?  We saw some marginal improvements in the afternoon in most places, and Seeley Lake had a tremendous smoke clearing out right about noon (thanks, convection!).  There is still smoke everywhere, though, and conditions are unlikely to see a very dramatic improvement before the sun sets.  There are some northerly evening winds in the forecast, which may be of some localized benefit, but we're seeing a lot of Canadian smoke being pulled down to ground level.  The atmosphere is going to stop mixing pretty early this evening, and then we're looking at calm, stable conditions county-wide shortly after midnight.  This means tomorrow morning should look a lot like this morning, only potentially a little bit worse, because we're going to be starting off with more smoke in the air tonight than we did last night.  Expect significant smoke pooling in communities near active fires.  Air quality in Lolo, Arlee, Missoula and the I-90 corridor near the Sunrise Fire may be Unhealthy in the morning.

Air quality in Seeley Lake may be Very Unhealthy or Hazardous.

Tomorrow is more of the same - expect hazy skies and deteriorating air quality.

We've had a lovely weather pattern that delivered easterly surface and transport breezes for the past week, but it looks like the honeymoon is over.  We're going to start seeing winds shift to be from the west, with overall flow coming from the southwest.  The Sunrise Fire smoke is about to become a major player when it comes to Missoula Valley air quality.  You can see a pretty large plume from the that fire in this afternoon's satellite photo.

Here's your current air quality at our monitors:

Missoula - Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (UHSG)

Frenchtown - Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (UHSG)

Seeley Lake - Unhealthy

Florence  - UHSG

Lolo - UHSG

Rock Creek - Unhealthy

Arlee - UHSG

Clearwater Junction - Moderate (!)

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. 

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Montana fire information: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/

The Rice Ridge Fire and the Sunrise Fire both showed a lot of activity this afternoon.

081017_PM fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

 

The Sunrise Fire is sending a plume that is large enough you can pick it out from the Canadian smoke.

081017_PM color

 

UPDATE: August 10, 9:30 a.m.

The combination of active fires, strong inversions and Canadian smoke means we all woke up to varying degrees of misery this morning.

Seeley Lake has once again seen smoke reach Hazardous levels.  The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You can find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.   Please note that the Red Cross Shelter in the Potomac Valley is on stand-by and can be ready to go with an hour's notice.  Anyone seeking to stay at the shelter may call the Red Cross of Montana at 1-800-272-6668.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and leave the area or stay indoors with filtered air when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Conditions in Missoula and Lolo are Unhealthy this morning.  Smoke started accumulating in Lolo at midnight, and it made its way into Missoula by roughly 3 a.m.  So far, we haven't seen the smoke spread very far beyond Missoula - conditions in Frenchtown are still Moderate.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. 

Conditions in Arlee and Florence are currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

The Canadian smoke blanketing western Montana (and Idaho and Washington), continues to make plume identification a little challenging.  Still, it looks like the Lolo Peak fire is responsible for the smoke in Lolo and Missoula.  Smoke from the Liberty, Rice Ridge, Sunrise and Sapphire Complex fires are all trapped in their adjacent fires.

There's just a lot of smoke out there.  We have smoke trapped under inversions near active fires and a hulking mass of Canadian smoke looming above us.  The inversions should start to break before noon, and by 1 p.m. there should be pretty good convective lift to get the smoke up and out of our breathing space.  However, aside from some nice convection, there's not going to be much movement up in the atmosphere.  And what little movement there is, will be from the northwest, which means yet more Canadian smoke in our future.  Today's mixing height will be pretty darn high, which means there's the added possibility of Canadian smoke that's currently far overhead ending up in our valleys.

What I'm trying to say is, this might not be a very good air quality day.  I think there will be some smoke lifting just thanks to convection, but it's not going to go very far, and when our smoke goes up, there's a good chance the Canadian smoke will come down.  Then, later this evening, our smoke will also come down and have a nice multinational smoke party in our breathing space.

Seeley Lake will be the area that sees the most dramatic improvement this afternoon.  The air is unlikely to reach pristine conditions, but will likely be an order of magnitude better than it was this morning.  For the number nerds, the 1-hour PM2.5 average concentrations at 8 a.m. was 866.2 ug/m3.  That's literally 10 times worse than the Unhealthy air we have in Missoula this morning.

There's a chance of thunderstorms this afternoon, which may lead to gusty winds over the wildfires in our region.  Localized strong breezes resulting from any storms *may* scour smoke out of a few lucky areas, but any relief will be short-lived, and those same breezes are likely to lead to additional fire growth.

Fires were actively burning last night, and even the ones that weren't hot enough to be detected by satellite still produced smoke that is filling our valleys:

August 10, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw 

Lots and lots of smoke this morning.

August 10, 2017 morning satellite photo

The bigger picture.  It's always good to put things in perspective.  Today, it's also mighty depressing.

UPDATE: August 10, 7:30 a.m.

As of 7 a.m. on Thursday, air quality is Moderate in Frenchtown and Rock Creek.  Air quality is Unhealthy in Missoula and Lolo.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Florence and Arlee. When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Air quality is currently Hazardous in Seeley Lake. When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Conditions are likely to improve by this afternoon as temperatures warm up and smoke is able to leave the valley floor.

Because smoke conditions can change rapidly and vary widely based on location, wind, fire flare ups and proximity to fires, the department encourages individuals to use visibility as a guideline to help gauge air quality at a given time and place and take appropriate precautions.  More smoke information is available at http://www.missoulacounty.us/airquality/.  

For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, access Montana’s Today’s Air web site.

 

UPDATE: August 9, 6:30 p.m.

Conditions generally improved throughout Missoula County this afternoon, but we're starting to see some increased haze and deteriorating air quality across the region, likely due to Canadian smoke mixing down to surface level.  Florence and Lolo saw periods of Unhealthy air today, but they've both improved a bit this afternoon.

Air quality is Moderate in Missoula, but is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Frenchtown, Lolo, Florence, Rock Creek and Arlee.  Air quality is Unhealthy in Seeley Lake. So the best air is actually in Missoula right now.  High five, Missoula!

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Conditions in Missoula are likely to match what we're seeing around the region in the next hour or so.  Some surface breezes may keep the smoke from getting too thick in the evening hours, but we will be stuck with whatever's left in our breathing space after the sun sets and the winds die down.

We're looking at calm winds across the county tonight, which means we may see some significant smoke pooling in areas near active fires.  Conditions in Arlee, Florence, Rock Creek and Lolo may become Unhealthy overnight.  Conditions in Seeley Lake and the I-90 corridor near the Sunrise Fire are likely to become Very Unhealthy or Hazardous.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

The Health Department has recommended Seeley Lake residents get out of the smoke if they are able to.  You may find the official recommendation and some helpful resources online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/seeley-lake-wildfire-recommendation.   Please note that the Red Cross Shelter in the Potomac Valley is on stand-by and can be ready to go with an hour's notice.  Anyone seeking to stay at the shelter may call the Red Cross of Montana at 1-800-272-6668.

There have been isolated thunderstorms around the area this afternoon, as well as some lightning strikes in Missoula County.  If you ever feel like your afternoon could use a good jolt of foreboding doom, I recommend visiting LightningMaps.org and watch the pretty glowing orange lights.  Here's the link for the Missoula-centric view: http://www.lightningmaps.org/?lang=en#m=sat;r=0;t=3;s=0;o=0;b=0.00;n=0;d=2;dl=2;dc=0;y=47.2797;x=-113.4084;z=8;.

We saw plenty of fire activity around the region, but the massive amounts of overhead Canadian smoke as well as the accumulating cloud cover is obscuring the fancy plume photos we've been so spoiled by.

August 9, 2017 afternoon fire activity as detected by satellite

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

It's hard to appreciate the smoke that's under the cloud cover unless you zoom out.  And hey, it's finally overcast because of smoke AND clouds!

August 9, 2017 zoomed out afternoon satellite photo

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

 

UPDATE: August 9, 3:00 p.m.

This update focuses on the Seeley Lake air quality and issues stronger recommendations (see attached) for the folks in that community.

You guys, we need to talk about Seeley Lake.

The residents of Seeley Lake are experiencing levels of wildfire smoke the likes of which we have never monitored in Missoula County.  Since August 1st, air quality in Seeley Lake has hit Hazardous levels seven times.  That means they have had clean(ish) air to sleep in only twice in more than a week. And it's not going to get better any time soon.

Smoke from the Rice Ridge fire is going to continue funneling in Seeley Lake every night, where it enters the buildings and puts every resident at risk of serious health effects - particularly those who are vulnerable to particulate pollution.  Health effects can include reduced lung function, heart attack and stroke.  The smoke in Seeley Lake is dangerous.

Note that the term “vulnerable residents” is a catchall for a sizable group of people.  This includes children, older adults, pregnant women, and anyone with or lung disease.  The heart disease group is sizable.  Per the EPA: People with heart disease includes all people with known coronary artery disease, ischemic heart disease, history of angina and/or heart attack, stent placement, by-pass operation, heart failure, ventricular arrhythmia, peripheral vascular disease, history of stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), or cerebrovascular disease. This group also includes older adults, because they are more likely to have undiagnosed cardiovascular disease, along with people with multiple risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes.

In other communities with this type of air pollution, there have been increases in emergency calls and hospital admissions for people suffering from respiratory and other health conditions related to smoke.  Seeley Lake is currently served by a single health clinic that is closed on the weekends and a dedicated, but relatively small EMS team with limited resources.  It is therefore essential that residents of Seeley Lake take steps to protect themselves.  The most effective way to protect yourself from this type of wildfire smoke is to leave the area.

Seeley Lake residents who do not wish to pre-evacuate should consider spending the night and morning away from town and returning to their properties after the worst smoke has lifted.  Always check to make sure conditions have improved before returning to Seeley Lake.  Current particulate pollution levels are available online at http://svc.mt.gov/deq/todaysair/AirDataMap.aspx.

The Red Cross has set up a shelter in the Potomac Community Center.  The shelter is currently on stand-by and can be ready to open with a 1-hour notice.  The air quality in the Potomac Valley has been considerably better than what we’re seeing in Seeley Lake, and Seeley Lake residents who do not have another place to go should consider spending nights at the Potomac Red Cross shelter.  The shelter is located at 29827 Potomac Road, Potomac, MT 59823.  Anyone seeking to stay at the shelter may call the Red Cross of Montana at 1-800-272-6668.

Note that just because the smoke lifts in the afternoons, that doesn't mean health risks related to particulate pollution have passed.  Fine particulate is a cumulative pollutant, and a few hours of relatively cleaner air is not enough time for your body to bounce back to healthy levels.  By all means, spend time outside breathing clean air when it arrives, but do not try to exert yourself until your body has had adequate time to recover from the pollution.

School athletic practices and events should be canceled or moved to an area with clean air until this smoke event passes. Moving practice indoors is not sufficient.  The smoke outside is also inside.  Also, note the previous point - any student athletes who have been breathing this smoke at night will have compromised health and should not be exerting themselves until they're no longer subjected to daily smoke pollution.

If you cannot leave the area, we recommend you create a cleaner space in your home using a HEPA air filter.  Everyone in Seeley Lake should reduce their activity levels and seek out clean air.

 

UPDATE: August 9, 8:30 a.m.

I'm pleased to report that the air at ground level in Missoula is a relatively decent Moderate.  The air far above us, on the other hand, is filthy.  The Canadian smoke that was starting to cover the skies last night is here in full force this morning.  There are happy fluffy white clouds visible in the satellite photo this morning, but they aren't anywhere near Missoula.  That overcast, gray sky color you woke up to is entirely due to smoke.  Fortunately, we won't see much atmospheric mixing until noon or a little bit later, so whatever impact the Canadian smoke may have is likely to be held off until at least this afternoon.  When the smoke mixes down, conditions may deteriorate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.

The atmosphere stayed fairly mixed overnight due to a weak cold frontal boundary across southwestern and west central Montana.  This led to slightly warmer early morning temperatures than what we saw yesterday as well as a delayed onset of smoke settling into valleys.  The Rice Ridge, Sunrise, Lolo Peak, Hidden, and Little Hogback Fires were all actively burning overnight, and we're starting to see some impacts from that activity this morning.  As the morning progresses we've started to see conditions deteriorate in communities near active fires.

Air quality in Seeley Lake is currently Hazardous.  It took several hours, but smoke did start settling into Seeley Lake at about 6 a.m. and conditions have rapidly nose-dived.  The air quality is likely to get worse before it gets better for the next couple hours.  The inversion will start to break as the sun angle increases and temperatures rise.  Later this morning we should, once again, see rapid improvement and decent clearing of the smoke after 1 p.m.

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Conditions in Lolo are currently Unhealthy.  As with Seeley Lake, we didn't really start to see impacts until about 6 a.m., and the smoke in Lolo has been making up for lost time.  The Canadian smoke shroud is making it difficult to pick out our local fires, but we can pretty safely assume Lolo is being hit by smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire, and possibly also the Little Hogback Fire.  Conditions in Lolo should start to improve by this afternoon.  The southern part of the Missoula Valley may also see some of the smoke that is hitting the Lolo area.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  

Conditions in Arlee are Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, and may reach Unhealthy before they start to improve later this morning and afternoon.  As with Lolo, I can't pinpoint the plumes hitting Arlee, but based on past experience, it's likely smoke from the Liberty Fire draining into the Arlee area.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

We are seeing Hazardous conditions along the I-90 corridor near the Sunrise Fire.  It looks like the worst of it is still west of Alberton, and the east/northeast breezes in the forecast should continue to keep Sunrise Fire smoke out of Missoula County.

Aside from the confounding factor of Canadian smoke that may mix down later this afternoon, I expect conditions to generally improve across Missoula County by late morning and early afternoon.  We are still seeing easterly and northeasterly surface and transport breezes, which should keep the Lolo Peak and Sunrise smoke headed toward Idaho.  The Little Hogback and Hidden fires will likely take turns pouring smoke into the Bitterroot Valley today, which may lead to fluctuating air quality from Stevensville to Lolo.

There is an increased chance of thunderstorms this afternoon, which will potentially lead to some active fire behavior due to increased winds and outflow from passing storms. 

Most of our surrounding fires actively burned overnight:

August 9, 2017 morning fire activity

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

There is Canadian smoke blanketing the region.  You can kind of pick out specific local plumes.  Note the happy, fluffy white clouds that are far, far away.

August 9, 2017 morning satellite photo

Canadian smoke is blanketing the region and may pass over before it mixes down this afternoon.

August 9, 2017 zoomed out morning satellite photo

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational.

UPDATE: August 8, 7:30 p.m.

There's a lot of haze out there, but for the most part we're seeing improved air quality around Missoula County.  The haze has certainly stayed with us, but conditions are generally Moderate in all directions.

Air quality is likely to deteriorate later this evening as some of the overhead haze makes its way to ground level.  Areas near active fires (Lolo, Florence and Arlee) may see conditions become Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups or worse overnight.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Seeley Lake broke out from under the Rice Ridge smoke right around noon, and enjoyed hazy skies for several hours.  This is a definite improvement over skies that you cannot see because you're buried under an insane amount of smoke from the fire burning on the hill. 

Here's the thing, folks.  Remember the Roaring Lion Fire that was so close to Hamilton last year?  That fire impacted Hamilton air quality, but it never came even close to what we're seeing in Seeley Lake.  Remember 2000?  A year my college roommate fondly called "The Smiting of Montana"?  Missoula saw Hazardous air quality that summer, but it wasn't like this, it wasn't for as many days, and the Hazardous days were spaced out over a month.  In 2013, Lolo had Hazardous air quality for a couple days from the Lolo Creek Fire, but it that smoke event was relatively short-lived.  We straight up have never measured this kind of wildfire smoke event in Missoula County.

Seeley Lake is positioned perfectly to be swamped by smoke from the Rice Ridge fire every morning unless there is a whole bunch of wind from a cold front to temporarily push the smoke away or the fire goes out.  Smoke pours down the Morrell Creek drainage every night as soon as the sun sets, and finds itself trapped in a narrow valley that has a pinch points on either end.  This natural collection point is intensified by strong morning inversions.  Keep in mind that as the days go on, those inversions are only going to be stronger and last later into the morning. Seeley Lake is essentially spending every night and morning in a horizontal smoke plume that is trapped and builds in intensity as the hours wear on.  Very Unhealthy or Hazardous air quality is likely to continue for the near future. 

When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Our surrounding wildfires were all fairly active today.  The Little Hogback Fire in the Sapphire Complex continues to produce one of the more impressive local smoke plumes.  It generally sent smoke toward Phillipsburg today, but we may see some of its smoke back in the Bitterroot Valley overnight as breezes shift and the smoke descends down into valleys.

We're seeing some northerly breezes in the region, which hey, that's great!  We don't actually have any fires directly north of us!  (And yes, I know there's a fire outside of Eureka that is growing quickly and is a serious cause for concern in that area.  But really, it's more north-northwest of us.  Semantics!)

What we do have, is a great big line of Canadian smoke that is snaking its way toward us.  According to the National Weather Service, a north and east flow that's pushing through western Montana has pulled the Canadian smoke down to our region.  This smoke is currently responsible for some far overhead haze and general scumminess messing with our views.  Our atmosphere is going to cease mixing in the next hour or so, which means we may not end up with too much Canadian smoke pulled down into the valley before the sun sets.  The Canadian smoke is leading to significantly impacted air quality in Washington, and it may be more of a player for our area tomorrow, so stay tuned.  If I'm wrong and it gets really bad tonight, blame Canada.

Today's 5 p.m. fire detection from MODIS shows activity on the Sunrise, Lolo Peak, Hidden and Little Hogback Fires.  It doesn't see activity on Rice Ridge, but there was cloud cover over that region for most of the day, and that can mess with the satellite's ability to pick up heat signatures.  Even if the Rice Ridge wasn't tremendously active, it is still burning through fuels and producing smoke that will impact Seeley Lake.

August 8, 2017 afternoon fire activity 

Source: https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/afm/activefiremaps.php?sensor=modis&op=maps&rCode=nrw

There's a lot of smoke over our area, and the combination of haze and smoke this evening makes it difficult to pinpoint specific plumes:

August 8, 2017 evening satellite photo

Boy howdy that's a lot of smoke pouring out of Canada!  The air in Washington is bad right now.

August 8, 2017 zoomed out satellite photo

Satellite photo source: Source: CIRA and NOAA. These data are preliminary and not operational. 

UPDATE: August 8, 9:30 a.m.

We're seeing smoke impacts in communities near active fires this morning.  While most of Missoula County has generally Moderate air quality this morning, thicker smoke is trapped in the Arlee, Lolo and Seeley Lake valleys.

Seeley Lake continues to see the most significant smoke impacts.  Air quality is currently Hazardous in Seeley Lake.  When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Conditions in Seeley Lake will once again rapidly improve when the inversion breaks and smoke from the Rice Ridge Fire is able to lift off the valley floor.  The inversion may not fully break until after 12 p.m., but there should be some general, steady improvement throughout the morning hours.

Air quality is currently Unhealthy in Arlee and Lolo.  When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  

The Liberty Fire has been slowing down, but it continues to cause morning smoke impacts in Arlee.  Conditions in the Arlee area should improve as temperatures warm up and the smoke is able to lift off the ground.  The easterly surface and transport winds, coupled with some active fire behavior on the Liberty and Rice Ridge fires, mean folks in the Arlee area may see some additional smoke headed their way this afternoon.

Smoke from the Lolo Peak and Little Hogback fires are impacting Lolo's air quality this morning.  These fires were both actively burning overnight, and the smoke became trapped in drainages that empty into the Lolo area.  Lolo should see improved air quality by this afternoon when the inversion breaks.  Lolo should also benefit from some northerly winds later today that will help push smoke out of the valley.

As for the rest of us, we're primarily looking at visibility impacts this morning.  Some atmospheric mixing should kick in by 2 p.m. (which is good and bad - good, because local smoke will lift up and leave us alone for a bit, and bad because all that Canadian haze that's currently far overhead may be pulled down to our breathing space.)   While there is a fair amount of smoke overhead, I don't expect conditions in Missoula or Frenchtown to deteriorate beyond some additional haze this afternoon.

 It should be noted that the unstable atmosphere may lead to increased fire activity this afternoon, which means more smoke in the pipeline.  We're still seeing easterly and northeasterly surface and transport winds  in the forecast, so our locally generated plumes and corresponding smoke impacts are likely to follow similar patterns to what we've been seeing for the past several days - smoke from the Sunrise and Lolo Peak fires will likely head off toward Idaho, but smoke from the Liberty and Little Hogback fires may cause impacts in Arlee and Lolo.  The Rice Ridge smoke has generally been lingering over the Bob Marshall Wilderness during the day.  Today's breezes are a bit more northerly than what we've been seeing though, so it's possible some of the Rice Ridge smoke will impact Seeley Lake in the late afternoon and early evening.

There is a slight chance of isolated dry and wet thunderstorms in the region this evening.  That could lead to gusty winds over fires and potential new starts from lightning strikes.  This type of more active weather pattern will stay with us for at least the next several days, so there may be additional smoke impacts in our future.

Fires remained active overnight:

August 8, 2017 morning fire activity

Smoke from the Liberty Fire made its way to Arlee overnight, and Lolo is seeing smoke from both the Lolo and Little Hogback:

August 8, 2017 morning satellite photo

Smoke continues to pour out of Canada:


UPDATE: August 7, 5:00 p.m.

Conditions in Lolo remained Unhealthy until almost 3 p.m., when we finally saw some of the smoke move up and out of the valley floor.  Conditions in Lolo are currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, but trending toward Moderate.

We've seen some clouds move into the area, which has made tracking plume movement via satellite a little challenging.  In the morning, the smoke from the Little Hogback Fire was headed straight for the Bitterroot Valley, but at about 3 p.m., it swung back out toward Phillipsburg.  The Hidden Fire (burning west of Victor and Corvallis), promptly filled the gap.  Conditions in Hamilton have started to deteriorate. 

Florence has struggled to see the same air quality improvement as the rest of Missoula County.  Conditions have been stubbornly Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups all day.  At this point, Florence may yet benefit from some convective lift, but should be prepared to see more smoke enter the area as the evening progresses.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

The breezes over the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness are generally from the west this afternoon (hence the Hidden Fire smoke headed for the Bitterroot), and they have started to send the Lolo Peak smoke back over Missoula County.  We will likely see some of that smoke mix down into the valleys this evening.

Seeley Lake, as expected, saw considerable improvement by the noon hour, and conditions are now Moderate.

We are currently benefiting from some pretty stellar convective lift.  There is still smoke overhead, but conditions at breathing level in Missoula are closing in on Good.

Conditions are likely to start deteriorating this evening as smoke descends toward the valley floors.  There aren't any significant plumes pointed toward Missoula or Frenchtown at the moment, so those areas may dodge the worst impacts.  The Sunrise Fire has been producing smoke all day, but it's still headed toward Idaho.  The winds will die down this evening, so smoke from the Sunrise is likely impact the I-90 corridor overnight.

Conditions in Lolo and Arlee may become Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups or worse later this evening. These same areas are also likely to see smoke trapped in their valleys, and the morning may also be Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups or worse.  Missoula may also see an intrusion of Lolo Peak smoke in the morning hours. 

Seeley Lake is in for another round of thick smoke overnight and into the morning hours.  Conditions may once again be Hazardous in the morning.  There's another cold front moving through the region tonight, which will deliver helpful east winds to the area, but they are unlikely to be strong enough in Seeley Lake to push the smoke out from under the inversion.

Tomorrow we're looking at more east and northeast surface and transport winds, which should continue to keep the bulk of the Sunrise and Lolo Peak smoke out of the Missoula valley during the day. 

Over the next week or so, we're going to be entering our more typical wildfire season.  There will be increased chances of thunderstorms forming in the afternoons and the potential for new fires and significant activity on existing fires.  There may be significant smoke impacts across Missoula County in the coming weeks.  It is a good idea to have a plan in place to get away from the smoke if it affects you, or take steps to create a cleaner air space in  your home.

Fires remained active today.  The darker the dot, the more recent the heat:

August 7, 2017 afternoon fire activity

Satellite photo from before the cirrus clouds moved in and obscured the plumes.  Note that the plumes in this photo are still pointed toward the west. 

August 7, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

Zoomed out satellite photo showing smoke in Canada:

UPDATE: August 7, 2:30 p.m.

As of 2 p.m. on Monday, air quality is generally Moderate in Missoula, Arlee and Frenchtown, and is trending toward Moderate in Seeley Lake. Conditions are likely to deteriorate later this evening as smoke from surrounding wildfires settles into area valleys.

Air quality is Unhealthy in Lolo. When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Florence. When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion. 

Because smoke conditions can change rapidly and vary widely based on location, wind, fire flare ups and proximity to fires, the department encourages individuals to use visibility as a guideline to help gauge air quality at a given time and place and take appropriate precautions.  More smoke information is available at http://www.missoulacounty.us/airquality/.  

For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, access Montana’s “Today’s Air” web site. 

 

UPDATE: August 7, 9:30 a.m.

The combination of fire activity and morning temperature inversions has led to some air quality impacts around Missoula County.  Unsurprisingly, Seeley Lake continues to bear the brunt of our local wildfire smoke.

 Air quality is currently Hazardous in Seeley Lake.  When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Conditions in Seeley Lake should once again rapidly improve later today as the inversion breaks and the smoke trapped in the valley is able to lift off the floor.  However, this kind of repeated exposure to hazardous levels of wildfire smoke is bad for every person in Seeley Lake.  We recommend people who are being exposed to wildfire smoke invest in a HEPA air filter to create a cleaner space in their homes.  Climate Smart Missoula has put together a nice resource on HEPA air filters: http://www.missoulaclimate.org/hepa-air-filtration.html

Smoke from the Rice Ridge fire is once again settling into the Swan Valley, where conditions may be Unhealthy or worse.  Air quality in Condon should improve by this afternoon.

Air quality in Lolo is Unhealthy this morning.  In this morning's satellite photo, you can see smoke from both the Lolo Peak and the Little Hogback fires making its way to the Lolo area.  Lolo is also likely to start seeing improvements by the afternoon.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  

So far, Florence has escaped the worst of that smoke, and conditions there are currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.

Smoke that tipped over into the Bitterroot Valley from the Little Hogback and Lolo Peak fire made its way north into Missoula, where conditions have deteriorated to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

The smoke hasn't made it very far from the southern part of the Missoula Valley.  Conditions in  Arlee are Frenchtown are considerably better than what we're seeing in Missoula.  Air quality in both these areas is currently Moderate.

Air quality should improve at all locations later this morning and into the early afternoon as temperatures warm up and inversions begin to break.  However, the east breezes will likely continue to deliver smoke from the Little Hogback fire to the Bitterroot valley, so conditions in Florence and Lolo may fluctuate.

Today we're looking at another round of hot and dry weather with light easterly surface and transport winds.  This means we will see some fire activity, but smoke from the Sunrise Fire and Lolo Peak Fire will likely be headed toward the west for most of the day.  We're under a persistent weather pattern, and today may look quite a bit like yesterday.  If so, we should be mostly dealing with visibility impacts by this afternoon.  

Locations near active fires may see smoke again this evening as the sun sets and smoke starts to settle in area valleys.

The confounding factor is, of course, smoke from fires outside Montana.  In the zoomed out satellite photo you can see smoke both north and south of the Missoula area from fires burning in Canada and Idaho.  Currently, I'm primarily anticipating visibility impacts from the smoke, but we will be keeping an eye on it.

There's an increasing chance of isolated wet and dry thunderstorms west of the Divide as move toward Tuesday.  The timing for any thunderstorm activity in our region is currently being held off until Tuesday evening.  Should thunderstorms arrive, they will influence fire behavior and potentially lead to new fires in our area.

Fires were continuing to burn into the evening hours last night:

August 7, 2017 morning fire activity

Smoke from the Lolo Peak and Little Hogback fires made their way toward Lolo this morning.  Seeley Lake is completely socked in with heavy smoke.

August 7, 2017 morning satellite photo showing local smoke plumes

There's a lot of smoke out there.

August 7, 2017 zoomed out morning satellite photo showing regional smoke

UPDATE: August 7, 7:30 a.m.

As of 7 a.m. on Monday, air quality is Moderate in Frenchtown, Rock Creek and Arlee.  Air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Missoula and Florence. When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion. 

Air quality is Unhealthy in Lolo. When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Air quality is currently Hazardous in Seeley Lake. When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Conditions in Seeley Lake, Missoula and Lolo are likely to improve later this morning as temperatures warm up and smoke is able to leave the valley floor.

Because smoke conditions can change rapidly and vary widely based on location, wind, fire flare ups and proximity to fires, the department encourages individuals to use visibility as a guideline to help gauge air quality at a given time and place and take appropriate precautions.  More smoke information is available at http://www.missoulacounty.us/airquality/.  

 For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, access Montana’s “Today’s Air” web site. 

 

UPDATE: August 6, 9:30 a.m.

Air quality is currently Hazardous in Seeley Lake.  When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Smoke from the Rice Ridge fire continues to plague Seeley Lake's mornings.  Conditions should rapidly improve over the next several hours as the inversion breaks and the smoke starts to lift up and off the valley floor.

The Rice Ridge fire is also sending smoke up the Swan Valley.  Conditions in Condon may be Unhealthy or worse.  Air quality in Condon should improve by the noon hour.

Conditions in Arlee are Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  Arlee continues to see morning smoke from the Liberty Fire. Air quality should improve at Arlee later this morning as temperatures warm up, but it may then deteriorate again in by the evening as smoke from the Liberty and Rice Ridge fires heads that direction.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Air quality in Lolo is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, and is trending toward Unhealthy.  Lolo is seeing smoke from both the Lolo Peak and Little Hogback fires this morning.  Conditions may improve over the next several hours thanks to warming temperatures, but the easterly breezes and transport wind will continue to deliver smoke from the Little Hogsback to the Bitterroot Valley, so both Lolo and Florence should anticipate fluctuating conditions.

Air quality is generally Moderate in the rest of Missoula County.  There is some smoke overhead, but so far we're better off than yesterday.

Canada continues to send out enormous quantities of smoke.  When the smoke mixed down yesterday, the bulk of the Canadian smoke was south of us and conditions in Missoula deteriorated to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.

Today we're looking at some light east surface and transport winds, which should keep smoke from fires burning west of us out of our breathing space.  Conditions in the Missoula area will likely be generally hazy and Moderate, with some potential for deteriorating air quality when mixing heights increase after the noon hour, which will cause any Canadian smoke that's still lingering overhead to be pulled down to the valley floor. 

Currently, the worst of the Canadian smoke is south of us, so if we do see overhead smoke mix down, it should not be as dramatic as yesterday.  However, there is a lot of Canadian smoke headed straight for Washington this morning.  It may miss us entirely, but it's good to be aware of what the future may look like.

The fires were not tremendously active last night, but the Little Hogback, Sunrise and Rice Ridge Fires were all putting out enough heat into the evening hours to be detected on MODIS.  In this morning's satellite photo, you can see plumes from these fires settled into nearby valleys.

Fire detection map from 7:00 a.m.  Red dots indicate heat in the last 12 hours.  Maroon is heat in the last 6 hours.

This morning's satellite photo shows smoke filling local valleys, as well as hazy smoke overhead.

August 6, 2017 morning satellite photo

The fires in Canada continue to send enormous quantities of smoke toward Washington.

August 6, 2017 zoomed out morning satellite photo

UPDATE: August 5, 3:00 p.m.

Smoke has descended into the Missoula Valley, and conditions are currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Missoula, Frenchtown and Lolo.  Air quality is also Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Arlee.

Air quality is Unhealthy in Rock Creek.

Conditions are still generally worse as you head south.  Air quality is currently Unhealthy in Hamilton, and may soon become Unhealthy in Florence.

UPDATE: August 5, 2:30 p.m.

Some of the Canadian smoke has mixed down into the Missoula Valley, but so far it looks like the worst of it has moved south and is impacting the Bitterroot.  Conditions are currently Unhealthy in Hamilton.

Air quality is either already at Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups or trending that direction in Frenchtown, Lolo, Florence, Rock Creek and Missoula.

Air quality in Florence and Lolo may become Unhealthy later this afternoon.

Conditions will continue to fluctuate throughout the day due to the influence of shifting wind directions, surrounding fires, and overhead Canadian smoke.

Visit Montana's Today's Air website (http://svc.mt.gov/deq/todaysair/AirDataMap.aspx) for the most current particulate concentrations throughout the state.

UPDATE: August 5, 10:00 a.m.

The massive band of Canadian smoke that was in Washington yesterday has started to move over western Montana.  It is thick enough that it's obscuring everything else on the satellite photo and is complicating the process of determining which smoke is influencing which air monitor.  The good news is that it's still relatively far overhead.  However, we are currently benefiting from a relatively low mixing height.  Typically, we don't care for low mixing heights - they keep our locally generated pollution close to the surface, and no one wants that.  Today, however, there is a heck of a lot of pollution above that layer.  When our mixing heights increase later today, and if they reach the height of the smoke, any Canadian smoke that is overhead will be pulled down to ground level, and air quality will plummet.  The big question is really how much Canadian smoke will still be overhead when that happens.  If the bulk of the smoke band has moved past us, we may escape the worst impacts.

Currently, the surface and transport winds are from the east and they are influencing local smoke plumes.  However, the total flow aloft is still from the west, and that is sending the Canadian smoke toward our region.

In addition to the Canadian smoke, we are still surrounded by active fires.  The Rice Ridge, Sunrise, Sapphire Complex and Hidden fires were all active enough last night to produce heat signatures that could be detected by satellite.  The easterly transport winds will likely send Sapphire Complex and  Meyer fire smoke toward the Bitterroot today, and Rice Ridge and Liberty smoke may be headed for the Arlee area.

Air quality in Missoula is Good, and air quality in Frenchtown, Lolo and Florence is Moderate.  These conditions will likely deteriorate by this evening.

Air quality in Arlee is Unhealthy.  Arlee has been dealing with smoke from the Liberty Fire (and potentially the Rice Ridge Fire) all night. Seeley Lake had a relatively decent start to the early morning before smoke filtered down into the valley causing conditions to briefly deteriorate to Unhealthy levels. Air quality in Seeley Lake is swiftly improving toward Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups and Moderate conditions.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Overall, it's going to be a day of highly variable air quality.

Here are your current conditions:

Arlee - Unhealthy

Missoula - Good

Lolo - Moderate

Florence - Moderate

Rock Creek - Good

Frenchtown - Moderate

Seeley Lake - Unhealthy/Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups

Clearwater - Good

There is a slight chance of some moisture in the Seeley Lake area and over the Sapphire Mountains.  If it we do see moisture, it may help clear out some of the smoke, as the particulate makes an excellent nuclei for forming precipitation.

We are still surrounded by active fires:

August 5, 2017 morning fire activity

Canadian smoke is obscuring the region, but you can still pick out the plume from the Little Hogback fire in the Sapphire Complex:

August 5, 2017 morning satellite photo

Here's the big picture of what we're looking at:

August 5, 2017 zoomed out morning satellite photo

 

 

UPDATE: August 4, 6:00 p.m.

Good evening,

The hazy skies stayed with us all day today, and conditions are currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (UHSG) in most of Missoula County.  When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Air quality is Unhealthy in Frenchtown.   Frenchtown just saw a sudden influx of smoke from the Sunrise Fire.  As the wind picks up and shifts direction, conditions should start to improve in the Frenchtown area.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. 

Here's the run-down on air quality at all of our monitored locations. 

Florence - Moderate

Lolo - UHSG

Missoula - Moderate

Arlee - UHSG

Frenchtown - Unhealthy

Quartz Creek - UHSG

Seeley Lake - UHSG

Rock Creek - UHSG

Conditions this evening are likely to hover between UHSG and Moderate for most of Missoula County.

We're starting to see some weather changes in the area due to an incoming cold front.  There are scattered clouds dotting the skies and the breezes are picking up.  Later this evening we can expect strong winds that are initially from the north that will shift to become easterly winds around midnight.  These easterly breezes are most likely going to benefit the Missoula, Rock Creek and Frenchtown areas, where conditions are likely to continue ranging from Moderate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  Seeley Lake may continue to deal with some Rice Ridge smoke in the morning, but due to the overnight breezes, the smoke will likely be less miserable, and conditions are likely to range from Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups to Unhealthy.  The east winds are likely to push smoke from the Sapphire Complex and Meyer fires into the Bitterroot valley, where it may impact Lolo, Florence, Stevensville and Hamilton.  Morning conditions in these areas may be Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  Arlee is likely to see smoke from the Liberty Fire, and conditions in the morning may be Unhealthy.

The fires around our region started picking up in activity this afternoon.  They show growth on the MODIS heat detection map, and you can see large plumes of brown and gray smoke intermingling with the puffy white clouds in the satellite photo.

Check out the photo that shows the crazy amount of smoke Canada is sending to Washington right now.  I'm not expecting us to be hit with that smoke train (thanks, cold front!), but it serves as a good reminder of what may be yet to come this wildfire season.

The strong winds in the forecast may result in increased fire activity.  We're also facing the possibility of lightning on our forests this weekend.  We may see increased smoke production and new fires by Monday.

Fire activity as of 3 p.m. this afternoon (the darker the dot, the recent the heat):

August 4, 2017 fire activity

Smoke conditions as of 5:15 p.m.  The puffy things are clouds:

August 4, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

Zoomed out smoke conditions.

August 4, 2017 zoomed out satellite photo

 

 

 

UPDATE: August 4, 9:00 a.m.

We've seen smoke from our surrounding wildfires settle into the valleys and air quality has deteriorated in several of communities around Missoula County and the region.

Air quality is currently Hazardous in Seeley Lake.  When air quality is Hazardous, all people should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart of lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

The smoke in Seeley Lake is thick enough this morning that our monitor thought it was seeing errors for a couple hours. Smoke from the Rice Ridge fire started pouring into Seeley shortly after sunset, and it's been trapped in the valley ever since.  Conditions will start rapidly improving later this morning when the sun is able to penetrate through the smoke to break the inversion.  Until that happens, residents should take measures to protect themselves from the smoke.  Also, smoke is a cumulative pollutant.  The longer this drags on, the worse it is for everyone. The morning smoky conditions are likely to be a recurring theme, and folks need to pay attention to how their bodies are responding to the smoke and respect the health impacts.  When we advise people to stay indoors during hazardous air quality, it's not just because hopefully there is some air filtration in the home.  It's also because people need to be less active during a smoke event.  By not exerting yourself you can limit some of your exposure to your smoke.  When the smoke lifts, by all means, go outside and breathe some cleaner air, but it may still be advisable to take it easy on your lungs and not try test their limits after being exposed to hazardous pollution levels.

The Rice Ridge is sending smoke up the Swan Valley again this morning, so conditions in Condon may be Unhealthy or worse.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. 

Air quality is currently Hazardous in Quartz Creek.  Smoke from the Sunrise Fire is impacting the I-90 corridor, and conditions in Alberton have likely deteriorated accordingly.  Conditions may be Unhealthy or worse in Alberton.

Smoke from the Lolo Peak fire is impacting air quality in Florence and Lolo.  Conditions are currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Florence and Unhealthy in Lolo.  (We are seeing conditions in Florence pretty quickly improving toward Moderate.)

When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Smoke from the Sapphire Complex has caused conditions in Rock Creek to become Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.

Conditions in Arlee are Unhealthy.  Both the Sunrise and the Liberty fires sent smoke to Arlee overnight, and some of that smoke has moved down toward Missoula.

Air quality in Missoula is currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  We are being impacted by smoke from the Lolo Peak, Liberty and Sunrise Fires.  Also, it's looking like some of that Washington and Canadian smoke is starting to linger over our area.

Air quality in Frenchtown is currently Moderate.  Smoke from the Sunrise Fire is headed toward that area, so conditions may deteriorate before they get better.

We aren't going to see much air movement before this evening, so we will be relying on convection to lift the smoke up and out of our breathing space this afternoon.  The most dramatic improvements are likely to occur over the next several hours in Seeley Lake, Condon, Rock Creek, Lolo and the Alberton area.  Air quality in Missoula and Frenchtown is likely to range between Moderate and Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. Visibility impacts are likely to remain throughout the region for the rest of the day. 

This evening we will see some strong northwest breezes, which will be helpful for pushing some of the Sunrise smoke out of the area, but we will likely continue to see the Washington and Canadian smoke throughout the evening.  In addition, the strong winds may lead to growing fire activity, which means more smoke in our future.

We will see another weather shift starting around midnight, and strong east winds will return to the area.  We will likely see some moderate air quality improvements around the region, but since we are surrounded by wildfires, there's a good chance of smoke no matter what direction the wind hails from. 

In addition, the active weather pattern we're headed toward, will provide some more east winds, but will also start delivering chances of afternoon and thunderstorms to the Seeley Lake area.

In this morning's satellite photo you can see some distinct plumes from our local fires as well as gobs of smoke trapped in valleys around the region.  Smoke from the Hidden Fire is flowing into the Bitterroot, and there's hazy Washington and Canadian smoke blanketing all of northwestern Montana.

August 4, 2017 morning satellite photo showing smoke over the area

 

 

UPDATE: August 3, 4:30 p.m.

The inversion in Seeley Lake broke around 10 a.m. this morning, and conditions rapidly improved.  Seeley saw several hours of lighter smoke, but we are starting to see some more smoke filter down into the valley.  Conditions in Seeley Lake are currently Unhealthy.  When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.  People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. 

Air quality in Seeley Lake is likely to waiver between Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups and Unhealthy for the next several hours, as smoke from the Liberty Fire moves in to replace Rice Ridge smoke.  Of course, when the Rice Ridge smoke settles back down into Seeley Lake overnight, conditions will rapidly deteriorate.

The wind shift to a more northerly/northwesterly direction has started, and the smoke columns are responding accordingly.  Smoke plumes from most of the surrounding fires are now headed to the east, which means additional air quality impacts for most of Missoula County. 

Lolo and Florence are starting to see smoke from the Lolo Peak fire, and the Hidden Fire in Idaho is sending a plume of smoke toward Stevensville.  The Hidden Fire is one of those Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (SBW) fires that's going to be with us for a while.  As the summer progresses, we are likely to see more SBW fires popping up and impacting our air quality.

The plume from the Sunrise Fire has not yet made a major swing toward Missoula County.  The northwest winds may delay its arrival to our breathing space.

Arlee saw some smoke from the Liberty Fire earlier today, and conditions ranged from Unhealthy to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, but we're starting to see a general improvement toward Moderate conditions as the fire's plume swings to the east.  That plume is now headed for Seeley Lake.

Conditions are likely to deteriorate later tonight as some of the smoke that is currently overhead mixes down to ground level.  I also will not be surprised if we see some Lolo Peak and Sunrise smoke landing in some parts of the Missoula and Frenchtown valleys, respectively.  Conditions in Missoula and Frenchtown may become Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups this evening. When air quality is  Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.  The Canadian and Washington smoke is still pretty well northwest of us, but may yet head our way.

Conditions for communities near fires are likely to hit Unhealthy levels or worse by the morning hours.  There are no significant breezes in our overnight forecast, which means smoke from active fires will settle in the valleys and won't move off until the sun rises and inversions start to break.  Seeley Lake, Rock Creek and Alberton may see serious smoke impacts, with conditions possibly trending toward Very Unhealthy or even Hazardous in Seeley Lake.  Conditions in Florence and Lolo are likely to be Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups or worse.

As the fire season wears on, it will be important for residents to take steps to protect themselves from wildfire smoke.  The most basic way to do so is to reduce activity levels.  However, it may be a good idea to use a portable HEPA air filter to create a clean space in your home (note that a HEPA filter is recommended - some other air purifiers release ozone, which is harmful to human health).  A clean air refuge can do a lot to make a smoky summer more tolerable.  Climate Smart Missoula has set up a website with good information about HEPA air filters: http://www.missoulaclimate.org/hepa-air-filtration.html  If you choose to purchase an air filter, make sure it is rated to clean out particulates that are less than 1 micron in diameter (the particulates in smoke are super tiny and will not be filtered out by some of the HEPA filters on the market.  Be sure to read labels!) 

In this afternoon's satellite photo, you can see most of the smoke plumes making the swing toward the east, as well as smoke from Canada and Washington to the north.  The Lolo Peak, Moose Creek and Hidden fires are sending smoke into the Bitterroot.

August 3, 2017 afternoon satellite photo

 

 

UPDATE: August 3, 12:30 p.m.

The inversion in the Seeley Lake valley broke shortly after 10:00 a.m. this morning, and conditions have been rapidly improving.  Air quality in Seeley is currently trending toward Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups and may become Moderate later this afternoon.

 

 UPDATE: August 3, 7:00 a.m.

Smoke from the Rice Ridge fire has settled in Seeley Lake, creating Hazardous conditions.  As the morning temperatures increase and valley inversion start to break, the smoke should lift up and conditions are likely to rapidly improve.  However, the dense smoke may slow the timing of the inversion break because it impedes the sun's ability to reach the ground.

Air quality is generally Moderate in the Missoula Valley.


 

 

UPDATE: August 2, 10:00 a.m.

The strong easterly winds arrived last night, and they've helped improve conditions in Missoula, Frenchtown and Rock Creek.  Air quality is Moderate in these locations.  

Smoke from the Rice Ridge Fire was sitting under a weak inversion in Seeley Lake this morning and conditions there are currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  The inversion is quickly breaking, and conditions in Seeley are already starting to improve toward Moderate.  I expect the Rice Ridge smoke to generally stay overhead in Seeley today. 

Florence and Lolo have both seen considerably more smoke in the past 12 hours than Missoula or Frenchtown.  Conditions in Florence and Lolo are currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, but are trending toward Moderate.

In Missoula, we are still seeing smoke delivered to our valley.  If we weren't surrounded by fires, this strong wind would scour the area and we'd have the opportunity for truly clear skies.  The smoke we're seeing is for the most part generated from fires that are pretty far away (the Park Creek and Arrastra Creek fires), so we've lost that campfire tang that has so persistently flavored our smoke experience.  The volatile organic chemicals in smoke are pungent, but fortunately don't travel very well.  Particulates on the other hand, are hardy travelers, and are creating our hazy skies.  I'm primarily expecting visibility impacts during the day today.  The Arrastra Creek and Park Creek Fires were both active last night, but they're sending out considerably lighter plumes than what we're already seeing from our more local fires.

Be aware that even when smoke doesn't smell like smoke, it's still bad for you.  The fine particulate matter in smoke is our primary health concern, as it can bypass your natural defenses to enter the bloodstream and impact cardiovascular and respiratory health.  If the smoke mixes down into our breathing space, conditions may deteriorate toward Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.

The strong east winds may persist throughout most of the day, today. 

Our local fires were pretty active overnight, and the winds today are unlikely to help calm things down.  When this cold front moves out, we will likely see a brief return to our more typical smoke patterns, and there may be additional impacts due to fire growth.  There is another, weaker cold front moving our direction this weekend, so expect fluctuating smoke conditions for the next several days.

August 2, 2017 morning satellite photo shows smoke headed west

This morning's satellite photo shows plumes from local fires headed west as well as a general haze over the Missoula region.

August 2, 2017 morning fire activity

Our local fires were active overnight.  The Park Creek and Arrastra fires were less active in the wee morning hours, but did continue to produce significant heat into the evening hours yesterday.

August 1, 2017 color afternoon satellite photo showing smoke plumes

Yesterday afternoon's (August 1) color satellite photo shows the impressive plumes coming from the fires in our region

 


This web page is not updated on weekends or holidays unless air quality becomes Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups or worse. Call the air quality hotline at 258-3600 on weekends to get the most current air quality update.

If you operate a woodstove, fireplace or other solid-fuel burning device, you will want to get in the habit of checking this web page or the Air Quality hotline (258-3600) for up-to-date changes in Missoula's air quality. Woodstoves, fireplaces and other solid-fuel burning devices are restricted during alerts and warnings.

Resources


Air Pollution Alerts and Warnings

Missoula Air Stagnation Zone - Stage I Alert Stove Restrictions

Impact Zone M - Stage II Warning Stove Restrictions

Montana PM2.5 Today's Air Monitoring Network

Wildfire Air Quality Health Categories

Woodstove Operation Tips for Clean Burning