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Current Air Quality and Restrictions:

Click here to check the most recent PM2.5 concentrations in Missoula, Frenchtown and Seeley Lake on Montana's Today's Air website!

 

Air quality is Good to Moderate in Missoula County.  This web page will be updated if air quality becomes Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups or worse

Please check Montana's Today's Air website (link above) for the most current air quality conditions.

Smoke-Ready Resources and Blog 

Activity guidelines for schools, sporting events and day cares

Flyer about HEPA filters

Flyer about central air filtration


Air Quality: Discussion


September 19, 2020 10:00 AM

Cleaner air is on its way! As the low pressure system moves through the area, it will bring cleaner air into western Montana and usher accumulated smoke out of our breathing space.  The good news is it’s already done a good job cleaning the air in most of Eastern Washington, where conditions improved to Moderate early this morning.  The bad news is our air is still Unhealthy.  There’s just a lot of smoke that needs to find a new home before our air clears.  Conditions should improve throughout the 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. 

We’re already seeing atmospheric mixing this morning, so when that cleaner air arrives we should see significant improvements.  The smoke on ground level will be able to lift up and trade places with cleaner air. And then, once aloft, the smoke will go far away. (Note the air quality might not hit Good, but it should get better.)  Now, I don’t want to alarm you, but when the smoke lifts up, you’re going to see large features on the landscape.  These are called mountains. They are perfectly normal. I know by now you’ve grown accustomed to pretending we live on the plains. While the sudden appearance of topography may be startling, I'm sure you'll adjust quickly. 

Please be aware that it may take several hours today to see significantly improved air, and there's a good chance it will remain hazy. If you are sensitive to moderate amounts of smoke, you will want to continue cleaning your air with a portable air cleaner, DIY fan/furnace filter combo or an efficient filter in your furnace. Check out www.montanwildfiresmoke.org for tips on cleaning indoor air. 

Sunday still looks like our best air quality day this weekend.  Keep checking particulate concentrations at Montana's Today's Air website. When the air significantly improves today or tomorrow, open your windows to let cleaner air inside.  It won’t take long to air out your home, and you’ll be glad you did.

Next week, southwesterly flow sets back up and will once again feed us air and smoke from Oregon and northern California.  Happily, we won’t be under a high pressure ridge, so any smoke that arrives should be much more transient in nature, and we should not have smoke trapped in the valley floors for days on end.  

 A photograph of a cat in front of mountains

For your reference: Those blue lumps on the horizon are mountains. The fluffball wearing a pink coat is a cat.  Source: Sarah Coefield 

 A satellite photo showing clouds and some smoke over the western U.S.

In this morning’s satellite photo you can see clouds. Lots and lots of clouds. Underneath those clouds, there is still a lot of smoke that needs to move out of our area before we have cleaner air. Note there is still smoke being produced by the fires in Oregon and California. Depending on how active those fires are next week, we may see their smoke return to western Montana. Source: NASA GOES 16 Satellite 

Breathe safe!


September 18, 2020 5:30 PM

We’re almost through the worst of it, folks. It’s been a tough week of stagnant, polluted air, but the end is in sight. 

For now, air quality remains Unhealthy across 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. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.        

It is important to reduce your exposure to smoke. There is great advice for creating cleaner indoor air space at www.montanawildfiresmoke.org. If you enjoy long-form writing and dumb jokes, you can also check out my Smoke-Ready blog.     

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.          

Thick smoke cover kept inversions stubbornly in place in the valley floors today, suppressing temperatures and keeping particulate levels relatively stable.  The one bright spot appears to be Seeley Lake, where the inversion has weakened considerably. It is 10 degrees warmer in Seeley Lake than it is in Missoula right now! They’ve also seen a reduction in particulate concentrations as their air started mixing up off the valley floor.  The air quality in Seeley Lake is less smoky than it was this morning, but it is still Unhealthy. Hopefully, they will continue to see improvements before the sun sets and mixing shuts down. 

Some atmospheric models had suggested Missoula would start to see mixing at about 3:00 p.m. this afternoon.  That clearly hasn’t happened. Those same models said the theoretical mixing would shut down early this evening.  Our window of opportunity is closing fast, which likely means we’re going to stay smoky in the Missoula valley for another night.  

We’ve had a lot of cloud cover today, which, in addition to making our air quality appear extra grim, is making it difficult to pick out smoke on the satellite photos. If you visit the GOES 16 RAMMB Slider and rock the slider back and forth, you can see the layer of air beneath the clouds over Idaho is, in fact, still smoky.  This smoke will continue to move in overhead as we progress into the evening. 

Stable, smoky air with oppressive cloud cover is no fun. Ready to move on to better news? Instability is on its way! The low pressure system is moving inland and as it arrives we’ll see greater atmospheric mixing, greater wind speeds, and cleaner air moving into the area. We will likely still have smoke to start the day tomorrow, but conditions should improve as we head into the late afternoon and evening. The air quality should be noticeably improved on Sunday.  In addition, the incoming weather is already dropping rain on some of the Oregon fires that have been sending us smoke for the past week and is expected to drop rain on the Idaho fires south of Missoula.  This precipitation is unlikely sufficient to do anything more than slow the fires, but a slower fire will send less smoke to downwind states, and that’s good news for us! 

Next week, southwesterly flow will set back up.  Currently, it looks like we’ll primarily be getting our air from Oregon and northern California, so we’ll dodge the smoke from central and southern California fires. If the Oregon fires slow down, we may not have a terrible amount of smoke in our future.  On the flipside, if they take off or if any of the lightning strikes they received today start large fires, we’ll have smoke back in our breathing space.  Also, there was totally lightning over Oregon today, you guys, and there’s lightning over Washington right now.  I know we’re excited for the incoming weather, but the inclusion of thunderstorms in that weather feels a bit like a bait and switch. Also, if you are tired of looking at smoke and fire detection maps and would rather experience a deep sense of foreboding, I recommend checking out online lightning strike maps like this one!  http://www.lightningmaps.org/?lang=en#m=oss;r=0;t=3;s=0;o=0;b=0.00;n=0;d=2;dl=2;dc=0;ts=0;y=45.058;x=-112.489;z=6;.  

 A satellite photo showing clouds over smoke

There’s not much to see in this afternoon’s satellite photo.  There is still a fair amount of smoke under the cloud cover.  Air quality in central and eastern Washington and northern Idaho remains Unhealthy. As the low pressure system moves inland, the smoke will be pushed out of the region and air quality will improve. Source: NASA GOES 16 satellite. 

Breathe safe! 


September 18, 2020 10:30 AM

We’re in the home stretch, ya’ll!  The low pressure system and its accompanying cold front are on their way.  Now, before you get too excited, I'm afraid you'll need to slow your roll: yes, air will start moving easier in the region today, but strong valley inversions will prevent the smoke from leaving the valley floor any time soon. 

Currently, air quality remains Unhealthy across 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. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.       

It is important to reduce your exposure to smoke. There is great advice for creating cleaner indoor air space at www.montanawildfiresmoke.org. If you enjoy long-form writing and dumb jokes, you can also check out my Smoke-Ready blog.    

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.         

Thick smoke will prevent the valley inversions from breaking this morning and may keep them in place for much longer. The National Weather Service expects the air to remain stagnant and smoky all day, and the NAM model is showing inversions in place until tomorrow.  By Saturday, we should be done with the inversions of doom, and by Sunday, the smoke west of us should have been pushed out of Washington and there should be cleaner air heading our way.  Sunday remains the best air quality day in the short-term forecast.  (There's no guarantee the air will be in the Good category, but it should be less murky.)

I know we’re all super excited for better air quality this weekend, but I need to let you know it may get worse before it gets better. We will continue to see smoke entering our overhead airspace throughout the day. Remember the smoke I highlighted yesterday morning? It’s currently mid-way through Idaho and tracking our direction. In addition to the thick smoke on its way, there is a good chance we’ll see Idaho smoke this afternoon.  The afternoon winds will be coming at us from the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, which currently has several active fires.  If we do see some afternoon mixing, it will likely just bring us more smoke. 

 A satellite photo showing smoke over the western U.S.

Thick California smoke is currently heading our direction by way of Idaho. It may cause worsening air quality this afternoon. Source: NASA GOES 17 Satellite 

 A satellite photo showing smoke over the western U.S.

There is still a lot of smoke that needs to move out of the area before we see cleaner air this weekend. Source: NASA GOES 17 Satellite 


September 17, 2020 5:30 PM

It was another stable, smoky day throughout the county. We’re ending the day like we started it, with Unhealthy 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.      

It is important to reduce your exposure to smoke. There is great advice for creating cleaner indoor air space at www.montanawildfiresmoke.org. If you enjoy long-form writing and dumb jokes, you can also check out my Smoke-Ready blog.   

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 smoke I highlighted this morning has entered Washington and looks to be making its swing our way. We’ll know more tomorrow if it will be a player in our air quality. 

Tonight, we welcome to the Smoke Roundup some Idaho plumes! That’s right! The little fires in the Selway are turning into the fires-that-could, and they are sending smoke straight toward Missoula.  I went outside around 4:00 p.m. and looked to where I remember Lolo Peak is supposed to be but couldn’t see the arriving plumes through the smoke that’s already here.  Regardless, the overhead winds are directing smoke from the Beaver, Marion, and (I think) Sponge fires toward the Missoula Valley.  (The maybe-it’s-the-Sponge-Fire-plume is originating from a heat spot that isn’t labeled on every fire map.  But the Sponge Fire looks to be in the plume’s general location and there are some heat detects from it on the DNRC fire map.) 

Traditionally, fires in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness have dropped their plumes into the Missoula Valley in mid-to-late afternoon (in 2012 it started to feel like clockwork).  However, there’s a chance our currently stable conditions will keep that new smoke above us.  Our lower elevations are still under an inversion at 5:30 p.m. this evening, which is bad, because it means we’ve been stewing in the same smoke all day, but good if it means that plume of fresh Idaho smoke has to linger higher up where it can’t hurt us. 

Tomorrow, the high pressure ridge will start to move eastward, but the forecasts I’ve seen are still expecting strong inversions and stable conditions in our area.  Expect a smoky night, a smoky morning and a smoky day.  The main excitement will be finding how which state’s smoke plumes will hit us before the big weather change arrives later in the weekend.  Will it be Idaho? California? Or will we sit here, holding tight to our familiar Oregon smoke? Time will tell! 

Moving into the weekend, we’re looking at a decent chance of improving air quality starting some time Saturday. The weather change will kick off with a combination of smoke, haze, and showers. Remember – rain is good, but it doesn’t mean the smoke goes entirely away. The thing that most effectively gets rid of smoke in our atmosphere is incoming fresh air, and Sunday looks like our best bet for seeing that cleaner air.  At that point, most of the overhead smoke should be pushed out of the area and we should see greatly diminished particulate levels.  (Note that there may still be haze. There’s just a lot of smoke out there.) 

 A satellite photo showing overhead smoke and smoke plumes in Idaho

In this GOES-17 satellite photo, you can see the Idaho smoke headed our way this afternoon.  The Marion and Beaver fires are very close to each other, but it looks like most of the smoke is from the Marion Fire today (it has more heat detects than the Beaver Fire.) Source: NASA GOES 17 Satellite 

 A satellite photo showing overhead smoke and smoke plumes in Idaho

In the GOES 16 satellite we get the same smoke from a different angle (and more of it, because I zoomed out). You can see the plumes from the Idaho fires making their way toward the Missoula area. I’ve marked some of the Idaho fires to make it easier to spot their plumes. Source: NASA GOES 16 satellite. 

 A satellite photo showing smoke from fires across the western United States

A lot of smoke needs to move before we see clean air again.  In this photo you can see the California smoke making its way into Washington. Source: NASA GOES 16 satellite. 


September 17, 2020 11:30 AM

As expected, the air quality throughout Missoula County is the same as it was yesterday and the day before: 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.     

It is important to reduce your exposure to smoke. There is great advice for creating cleaner indoor air space at www.montanawildfiresmoke.org. If you enjoy long-form writing and dumb jokes, you can also check out my Smoke-Ready blog.  

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.       

I won’t blame you if you woke up today, looked outside, and immediately got Lamb Chop singing, “This is the song that doesn’t end," stuck in your head. And if you didn’t have it stuck in your head until just now, I am deeply sorry.  

The high pressure ridge and thick overhead smoke will keep inversions in place and smoke trapped near the valley floor today. There is some indication we may see a quick burst of atmospheric mixing later this afternoon, but with the high pressure ridge in place there’s a decent chance the lower valleys will remain socked in. Also, if there is a lot of overhead smoke (hint: there’s a lot of overhead smoke), mixing won’t bring much relief. 

Depending on what model you look at, tomorrow could be full of exciting atmospheric mixing that moves smoke around, or the inversion will stay in place until Saturday.  No matter what model you look at, we remain under a southwesterly flow until at least midday Saturday, which means we get to look forward to/dread 48 more hours of smoke heading straight for us. One thing that’s kind of interesting is where the smoke will be coming from.  For several days, it’s been heading to us from central/western Oregon. Today, however, the overhead flow projections have smoke coming more from the eastern Oregon/Nevada area.  You may think, “That’s great! There aren’t many fires in those areas!” However, I need to draw your attention to the satellite photo.  See that thick smoke over eastern Oregon and western Nevada? It’s smoke from California fires, and it’s coming for us over the next couple days. I can’t say with any certainty that it’s going to hit us, and it’s possible the increased atmospheric mixing by the time it gets here will alleviate some of its effects, but it’s good to know it’s on its way. If you have time today, you can hop on over to the GOES 17 satellite to watch its progress! Also, as the flow becomes more southerly today and tomorrow, it's going to pull Idaho smoke from the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness straight for us. So that's an upsetting development to look forward to.  If the overhead smoke clears a bit, we'll get a better look at what those fires are doing and what they have in store for us.

We’re still looking at a quick low pressure system moving through the area this weekend, bringing increased atmospheric instability and, by Sunday, winds from areas that aren’t on fire.   

 A screenshot of the MM5 NAM model run of winds at 700 mb.This is the MM5-NAM forecast of winds at 700mb for this afternoon. (A lot of the smoke we’ve been seeing has generally been around the 700mb atmospheric layer. If you check out the GOES 17 satellite, you can see the smoke is moving almost exactly how you’d expect from this model run.)  In this graphic, you can also see the low pressure system over the Pacific Ocean that’s making its way eastward.  As it moves inland we’ll see increased atmospheric mixing, some precipitation, and eventually wind coming from cleaner areas. Source: University of Washington https://a.atmos.washington.edu/wrfrt/ 

 A satellite photo showing smoke from fires across the western United States In this morning’s GOES 17 satellite photo, you can see we are still blanketed with smoke. You can also see the California smoke heading for us by way of Nevada and eastern Oregon. Source: NASA GOES 17 satellite.  

 A screenshot of the HRRR Smoke model run showing smoke over the northwest.

The HRRR Smoke model has the smoke heading more for Washington than Montana. Source: NOAA HRRR Smoke 

Breathe safe! 


September 16, 2020 6:00 PM

It looks about the same, doesn’t it? Well, except for Seeley Lake – their air quality took a turn for the worse a couple hours ago when the easterly breezes gave up and the smoke moved back in.  Air quality is currently Unhealthy across Missoula County.

Expect more of the same tonight and tomorrow.  Southwesterly flow will continue sending smoke our way and the high pressure ridge will keep the smoke from leaving once it gets here.

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 is important to reduce your exposure to smoke. There is great advice for creating cleaner indoor air space at www.montanawildfiresmoke.org. If you enjoy long-form writing and dumb jokes, you can also check out my Smoke-Ready blog.

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 our air quality has not improved, the overhead smoke has thinned out a bit, as evidenced by the slightly brighter day.  This didn’t translate into any on-the-ground benefits, but we can now see more of the fires burning in the Idaho wilderness.  Check out the satellite photo! There’s a whole little row of fires burning north to south in Idaho. For many days, we couldn’t easily pick out these smaller fires or the smoke they may or may not have been (but most likely were) sending to Montana. This is how you end up with guesscasts instead of forecasts.  (Guesscast is a definitely technical term I just made up to define what I do when people request information about smoke and fires neither I nor the satellites can see.  Here’s an example: “Cloud cover is obscuring any smoke and the satellite can’t pick up heat signals through the cloud, but based on wind direction, I guess the smoke is headed our way?”)

Currently, smoke from these fires is headed toward the Bitterroot Valley. If you’re in the Bitterroot, it may be possible to spot smoke from the Beaver and Marion fires as a thicker line of overhead smoke against the rest of the overhead smoke.

For those of you curious about what the fires in the western United States have been doing, you may want to hop on over to the GOES 17 Satellite and turn on the Fire Temperature overlay. With the reduced overhead smoke levels, the satellite is picking up a lot more fire activity than it has for the past several days. This makes for ominously flickering lights on the overlay and foretells of more smoke to come. (The link I provided includes the overlay.)

Friday remains our first chance at something different in the smoke forecast. As the high pressure ridge moves east, we should see more atmospheric mixing and potentially reduced smoke levels. However, there’s a good chance that further reduction in smoke cover will lead to increased fire activity and more smoke down the line.  Smoke cover acts similarly to cloud cover – it blocks the sun from reaching the ground, which means humidities will stay higher than they otherwise would.  Higher humidity = less fire activity. When the smoke or cloud cover lessens and the sun can more effectively reach the ground and dry things out, we can end up with heightened fire activity.

Also, if there is still a lot of overhead smoke on Friday, atmospheric mixing will pull that smoke down to ground level, which defeats the pseudo-rosiness of the forecast. Based on model projections, we may continue to see overhead smoke from fires burning to our southwest well into Saturday, so the increased instability on Friday may lead to fluctuating particulate levels without bringing us any real relief.

The National Weather Service has been gaining more confidence that we’ll see precipitation this weekend. If we are fortunate, this precipitation will fall on some of the fires that are sending us smoke.  Locally, the precipitation itself won’t do much for our air quality. However, the increased atmospheric mixing should allow smoke to move off the valley floor, and if there is cleaner air overhead, we might get a break from the smoke levels we’ve been stewing in for the past few days. A word of caution – the good folks in the meteorology world are not expressing much confidence we’ll have clean air this weekend. We’ll be out from under high pressure, and by Sunday the upper level winds will be coming at us from less smoky areas, but there’s a LOT of smoke to move before we’ll see significant improvement.

There’s a chance we’ll still have some smoke in the area over the weekend.

Next week, the upper level winds shift back to the southwest to deliver us smoke and sadness.  How much will depend on what happens on the fires.

That’s a terrible way to end a forecast. Here’s a photo of hiking cat:

 A fluffy cat hiking on a leash in the forest.

Source: Sarah Coefield

In this afternoon’s satellite photo from the GOES 17 Satellite, you can see fires burning in a north-to-south line in Idaho. Some of this smoke will likely impact the Bitterroot Valley.

 A satellite photo showing smoke over the region and plumes of Idaho smoke

In this afternoon’s satellite photo from the GOES 17 Satellite, you can see fires burning in a north-to-south line in Idaho. Some of this smoke will likely impact the Bitterroot Valley. Source: NASA GOES 17 Satellite

 A satellite photo with the heat detection overlay showing fire activity

Heat detects from the GOES 17 Satellite.

 A satellite photo showing smoke from fires across the western United States

Here’s the big pictures from the GOES 16 satellite. There’s still a lot of smoke being produced by fires burning in Idaho, Oregon and California, and it will be heading our way for at least the next 2-3 days. Source: NASA GOES 16 Satellite.


September 16, 2020 11:30 AM

Depending on where you are, this morning is either a little bit worse than yesterday, or a little bit better.  The good people of Seeley Lake saw improving air quality this morning thanks to a pressure gradient that delivered northeast winds to northern Montana overnight and pushed smoke out of the region. Air quality in Seeley Lake dipped down to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. (It’s not good, it’s just better.) 

Unfortunately, this marginal improvement will likely be short-lived. The smoke from fires in Oregon, Idaho and California is expected to reassert itself and push back into the Seeley Lake area today. 

Meanwhile, for those of us in the Missoula area, the smoke got worse overnight.  We’re still in the Unhealthy category, but we’re farther into the red than we were yesterday.  Scroll down and check out the satellite photo - you can see smoke blanketing the area as well as smoke trapped under valley inversions.

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.  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. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.   

High pressure combined with thick smoke will translate into persistent inversions today and continued smoky conditions. We will remain under a southwesterly flow aloft through the work week, which will continue feeding smoke into our breathing space. The first signs of a change begin on Friday, when a low pressure system begins moving across the Northwest. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it will send us cleaner air until Saturday at the soonest, so Friday will likely be another smoky day. One good sign for Friday is the high pressure ridge will be moving east of us, and smoke will have an easier time leaving the valley floor.  How much benefit that delivers when smoke is still pouring into the area remains to be seen.  I expect Friday to be another smoky day, but potentially less awful than today. 

The weekend forecast is continuing to suggest improved air quality for our region. There’s also a chance some of the fires sending us smoke will see precipitation. It doesn’t currently look like this will be a season-ending event for any of the fires, but it may slow their growth and hopefully reduce some smoke production. 

If you’re curious what the particulate matter in wildfire smoke does to your body, I recommend you check out today’s article in National Geographic: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/09/how-breathing-wildfire-smoke-affects-the-body/?cmpid=org=ngp::mc=crm-email::src=ngp::cmp=editorial::add=Enviro_20200916&rid=461DAE22EB5132D78B37A2480655B6F3. They spoke with a lot of top minds in the wildfire smoke health research field and did a great job laying the many different ways the smoke is bad for you as well as acknowledging some of the unknowns (like what it means for you when the smoke comes from homes and cars in addition to trees).  

When we talk about smoke impacts, we tend to hit the most obvious symptoms and worst health outcomes hard: increased frequency and severity of asthma attacks, worsening COPD symptoms, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, increased hospitalizations, increased mortality, etc. For a lot of us, though, smoke mostly makes us feel crummy. I have a friend who recently described it as feeling like she was “on the verge of coming down with something.” One of the reasons smoke provokes this feeling of yuckiness is because your body is responding to the pollution like it would an invading bacteria or virus. It is trying to use its natural defenses to kill the particles, and its primary tool is inflammation. Inflammation is an important part of the immune response, but prolonged inflammation is bad for you. In addition to making you feel bad, it can cause some serious damage. (Note that your immune system can’t kill a particle, but it’s going to try, and you’re going to bear the brunt of this futile effort. The longer you’re in the smoke, the more your immune system will respond and the worse it is for you. This is why it’s important to avoid smoke exposure as much as possible. You don’t have to have a serious underlying health condition to be adversely affected by smoke.)   

It is important to reduce your exposure to smoke. We’ve seen that portable air cleaners with true HEPA filters, DIY box fan/filter combos, and efficient furnace filters in HVAC systems can all do a great job cleaning the indoor air in a home.  Note that these interventions only work while the air is moving through a filter.  If you are using your furnace fan to push air through a filter, make sure you keep the fan on at all times. Whenever it turns off, your air is no longer being cleaned and smoke will start to build back up.  There is great advice for creating cleaner indoor air space at www.montanawildfiresmoke.org. If you enjoy long-form writing and dumb jokes, you can also check out my Smoke-Ready blog! 

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.     

 A satellite photo showing smoke from California and Oregon wildfires over Montana 

This morning’s satellite photo shows smoke continuing to pour into western Montana. Note the super thick-looking smoke over central Washington and part of the Idaho panhandle is actually smoke over grassland. The brown grass makes it looks worse than it is. I mean, it is thick smoke. The air quality in those areas is awful. But it’s not quite as ridiculously bad as it looks from this angle. Also, note that you can see smoke trapped in the valleys and ravines in Idaho and Montana beneath the overhead smoke. Smoke above and smoke below, that’s how we mountain region people roll.  Source: NASA’s GOES 17 Satellite. 

Breathe safe!


September 15, 2020 5:30 PM

This is a quick update to confirm what you’ve likely noticed today: not much has changed. We’re still sitting at Unhealthy air quality throughout 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. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  

Particulate concentrations increased a bit this afternoon (particularly in Seeley Lake), and the satellite imagery shows some thicker smoke crossing Idaho and heading into Missoula County. There’s a chance we’ll see worsening air quality from this smoke as we head into the evening.  (It doesn’t quite look like the smoke whammy we’ve been worried about, but the monitors upwind of it have had higher particulate concentrations than us, so we may still see some impacts.) 

Also, the Beaver Fire in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness saw some activity today. It’s a relatively small fire, but its proximity to the Bitterroot Valley means it doesn’t have to burn that much to send smoke over the Montana/Idaho border. You may have to tilt your head and squint, but it is possible to pick out smoke from the Beaver Fire making its way toward the Bitterroot. 

Tonight will be like last night, and tomorrow will be like today: smoky. The only real question is how bad it will get. In general, I expect our smoke concentrations to remain relatively stable, without any real breaks, but also without tipping into Mordor territory.  The long-range forecast continues to suggest we’ll see a pattern change and a shift in upper level wind directions away from the southwest.  I can’t promise clean air, especially not this far out, but we should at least have relief from the relentless flood of smoke from Oregon and California. 

In the meantime, take steps to lower your exposure to the smoke.  The fine particulate matter is bad for you, and the longer you’re in it the worse it is. Create a cleaner air space in your home to have a place of respite from the smoke.  There are great tips for creating cleaner indoor air at www.montanawildfiresmoke.org.   

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.    

A satellite photo showing smoke from California and Oregon wildfires over Montana
 

In this evening’s satellite photo you can see some slightly thicker smoke making its way over Missoula County. We’ll find out in the next several hours if there are any ramifications for our air quality. Source: NASA’s GOES 16 Satellite. 

 A satellite photo showing smoke from California and Oregon wildfires over Montana 

Zoomed out, the satellite photo brings home how much smoke is still headed our way. NASA’s GOES 16 Satellite. 

Breathe safe! 


September 15, 2020 10:30 AM

Welcome to Day Two of Smoke Week! It’s like Shark Week, only with less teeth and more malaise.  There’s also decidedly less variety in the day-to-day offerings. Case in point: 

Air quality remains Unhealthy throughout 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. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  

Today we can expect continued stable, smoky conditions.  Theoretically, the inversion will break around noon, but I expect overhead smoke to prolong the inversion.  Also, once (if?) the inversion breaks, the only thing that will likely change is the smoke on the ground will lift up and the smoke overhead will come down.  So, you know, unless you’re bored with the smoke that was here all night and want some younger, zestier smoke, there isn’t much to look forward to. 

Also, interesting note: you may have noticed the smoke doesn’t smell very smoky. We are quite far from the wildfires, and while the particulate matter that makes us sick and turns the sun orange travels really well, the volatile organic chemicals that create the campfire smell don’t always make it this far from the flames.  You tend to get the stronger smoke scent when you’re closer to the fire.  However, just because we can’t smell the smoke, that doesn’t mean it is less harmful.  The particulate concentrations are currently at Unhealthy levels, which means everyone should try to limit their exposure to the smoke. 

In this morning’s satellite photo you get an excellent view of the smoke arcing across the Northwest toward Montana. That continuous stream of smoke is why we aren’t going to have improved air quality for quite some time. We will be under a southwesterly flow until at least this weekend, and it will feed us smoke until the winds shift.  Long-term projections are still showing a pattern shift for the weekend, which would give us a couple days of cleaner air before high pressure rebounds and we get trapped under a southwesterly flow again next week. 

In the meantime, take steps to lower your exposure to the smoke.  The fine particulate matter is bad for you, and the longer you’re in it the worse it is. Create a cleaner air space in your home to have a place of respite from the smoke.  There are great tips for creating cleaner indoor air at www.montanawildfiresmoke.org.  

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've had some questions about outdoor activities during this smoke event.  Please see the document "Recommendations for Outdoor Activities Based on Air Quality for Schools and Child Care Facilities."  Per the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, schools are required to reference these guidelines when determining local air quality and deciding to hold or cancel outdoor events, including recess, sports, and other outdoor school-sponsored events.

A satellite photo showing smoke from California and Oregon wildfires over Montana 

In this morning’s satellite photo you can see smoke pouring into Montana from fires in Oregon and California. Also, check out the Woodhead Fire in Idaho! It’s been going to town and its smoke may impact the Bitterroot Valley in the near future.  The horrible thick smoke over Eastern Washington hasn’t moved much closer to us, but we’ll continue to keep an eye on it. Source: NASA GOES 16 Satellite. 


September 14, 2020 5:30 PM

There’s not much to say in tonight’s update, because not much has changed.  The afternoon winds haven’t arrived and we’re still sitting in the same smoke we were sitting in this morning. The branches on the tree outside my window twitched a couple times, but otherwise we’ve seen extremely stable conditions. In fact, some valley locations are still under their morning inversions. It’s after 5:00 p.m. and it’s still colder on the valley floor than in the hills. Meanwhile, the upper level winds have continued to deliver smoke to our area and the fires in Idaho, Oregon and California have continued to burn. 

Unsurprising, the air quality remains Unhealthy throughout 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. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. 

Not much is going to change as we head into the evening. I’ve seen conflicting forecasts for tomorrow that indicate three possibilities: 

  1. The smoky sludge over Washington will make its way to Montana and make everyone very sad (this is the worst forecast and the one I most hope is incorrect). 
  2. A quick disturbance will come through late tomorrow, bringing winds and improved dispersion and perhaps a brief improvement in air quality. This forecast has the added spice of heightened fire danger, which is exactly what we don’t need right now. 
  3. Nothing changes and Tuesday looks just like Monday, except Tuesday will have more Idaho smoke in the mix.  

Currently, my money is on #3. We are going to continue to see smoke from the fires burning in Idaho, Oregon and California, and the high pressure ridge and lingering inversions will keep it from going anywhere once it arrives.  One difference for tomorrow is we will have less cloud cover, and the sky will be gray only from smoke, instead of a combination of smoke and clouds. Above the smoke, the sky will likely be that beautiful, vibrant blue that really makes late summer sing.  Was that cruel to point out? It might have been a little cruel. Don’t despair! This will not last forever. I mean, it’s going to last all week, but not forever. 

In the very long range forecast, there is a chance we’ll see a pattern change over the weekend that could give us a break from this smoke. We’ll know more as we get closer to the weekend. 

In the meantime, take steps to lower your exposure to the smoke.  The fine particulate matter is bad for you, and the longer you’re in it the worse it is. Create a cleaner air space in your home to have a place of respite from the smoke.  There are great tips for creating cleaner indoor air at www.montanawildfiresmoke.org. 

A satellite photo showing smoke from California and Oregon wildfires over Montana
 

In this evening’s satellite photo you can see smoke arcing across the region toward western Montana. You can also see the horrible, no good, very bad sludgy smoke over Washington that, in the worst-case scenario, may be heading our way tomorrow.  Source: NASA GOES 16 satellite 

 


  

 

September 14, 2020 10:30 AM

Air quality is currently Unhealthy in Missoula, Frenchtown 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. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. 

Smoke from regional wildfires mixed down yesterday afternoon and conditions deteriorated through the evening. The smoke we’re seeing now is currently trapped under a pretty strong inversion. Happily, the high pressure ridge is leveling off a bit today, which should make it easier for the inversion to break earlier in the day today than yesterday. Of course, the overhead smoke will slow the process.  Currently, models suggest the inversion will break by or before 1:00 p.m.  

As the high pressure ridge flattens and the inversion breaks there will be a bit more air vertical movement and smoke shouldn’t be relentlessly trapped in the valleys.  In addition, we will see some afternoon winds to move the air around this afternoon. (Of course, if the only air to be moved is smoky, it just means the smoke will move past us faster and with more energy. Who had caffeinated smoke on their 2020 bingo card?)  Currently, we are unlikely to see anything resembling clear skies today.  The overhead winds will be delivering smoke to the area all day.  Conditions may fluctuate after the inversion breaks, but don’t expect clean air. 

The outlook for the next several days is continued smokiness. We dodged the worst of it this weekend, but as the fires to our southwest produce large smoke plumes, we’ll continue to see smoke headed our way. In addition, the high pressure ridge will rebound going into Tuesday, so today’s break from stagnant air will be short-lived.  Once high pressure sets back up, smoke will once again have a difficult time leaving the valley floor. 

Our air quality this week will also be dependent on how bad the fires get and how much smoke they produce.  There’s a red flag warning over parts of Oregon and California today, which is not a good sign.  In addition, the fires burning in Idaho haven’t slowed down, and they are sending smoke toward Montana. The Bitterroot Valley will be lined up with the plumes from Idaho wildfires this week, so the folks there will get the triple whammy of smoke from Idaho, Oregon and California.  (I won’t be surprised to see Idaho smoke making its way into the Missoula area later this week.) 

We’re midway through September, and that means nights are getting longer and colder and inversions are getting stronger. When we have overnight smoke, it’s going to be with us for longer into the morning.  

While it’s smoky outside, try to stay inside in a place with cleaner air. You can use a portable air cleaner with a true HEPA filter or a DIY box fan/furnace filter combo to create cleaner air rooms in your home. If you have a central air handler, you can use your furnace fan to move air through an efficient filter (preferably a MERV 13). Visit www.montanawildfiresmoke.org or my Smoke Ready blog for tips on creating cleaner indoor air space.   (If you go with the DIY box fan/furnace filter solution, make sure you use a box fan manufactured in the past five years or so. The new ones have added safety features to prevent overheading.)

You can check the current air quality at Montana's Today's Air website.  If you aren't near a monitor, look outside. If you can't see five miles, the air is Unhealthy and you should try to stay inside in a place with cleaner air. 

A satellite photo showing smoke from California and Oregon wildfires over Montana

There is a lot of smoke headed our way from fires burning in Oregon, Idaho and California. Cloud cover is obscuring the view of our overhead smoke and the massive amount of smoke still over Washington and Idaho. We will continue to see smoke entering our area for the next several days. Source: NASA GOES 17 satellite. 


September 13, 2020 1:45 PM

Good news, everyone! 

The crazy, terrible smoke got hung up in Idaho, so instead of terrible air quality, we had crummy air quality this morning. We've had stable conditions throughout the morning and early afternoon, but as inversions begin to break, that will likely change. Conditions are currently Moderate in Missoula and Frenchtown and Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Seeley Lake. Particulate concentrations are trending up in Frenchtown and Missoula and may tip over into Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in the near future. 

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  

It's a beautiful, cloudless day, which you would know if we weren't blanketed by overhead smoke. We've been in a very strong inversion all day, which has prevented that smoke from mixing down to the valley floor. The inversion in the Missoula valley should break later this afternoon (possibly as soon as 2:00 p.m.), at which point things may get interesting.  When (if) the inversion breaks, air will start to move vertically.  The hazy air obscuring the mountains will be able to move up, and the smoky overhead air will be able to move down.  The high pressure ridge we’re under may limit some of the movement, but there's a good chance we'll see some fluctuations in air quality later today. Fun smoke fact: the inversion has been super strong today in part because the smoke itself has prevented the sun from warming the ground sufficiently to break the inversion.  Our less-terrible air at ground level is a byproduct of the smoky air overhead.   

The thick smoke we're most concerned about is slowly oozing out of Washington and is currently only midway across Idaho. (There's also a section of it making the air in Thompson Falls and Libby unbreathable at Very Unhealthy and Hazardous, respectively.)  The HRRR model did a great job all day yesterday but appears to have overestimated the smoke's overnight movement.  Predicting the future is hard, you guys. The latest HRRR model run still thinks we’ll see very thick smoke later today and this evening, so pay attention to changing conditions.  Check out Montana's Today's Air website for hourly particulate concentration updates.  If you aren't near a monitor, use visibility as a guideline: if you can't see for five miles, the air is Unhealthy.

There's still lots of fun smoke action to keep us occupied while we wait for the worst of it to get here.  The overhead smoke we're dealing with right now is moving quickly across the region, and a lot of it appears to be from California fires (I'm sure there's some Oregon smoke in there, too). Check out this satellite loop: https://col.st/fnwbg. Rock the slider back and forth and you can see the movement of the overhead smoke.  Here it is from a different angle: https://col.st/mDGch.  We will be under a southwesterly flow for at least the next couple days, so smoke from fires burning in Oregon and California will continue to head our way and will continue to impact our air quality for the near future.   

 A satellite photo showing wildfire smoke over the western U.S.

There is a lot of smoke overhead, but the worst smoke is still lingering in Washington, Idaho and Northwest Montana. Source: NASA GOES 16 satellite.

Breathe safe!


September 12, 2020 6:00 PM

I thought you might want a status update on the upsettingly large smoke plume that's forecasted to hit us tomorrow. Ready? It's still coming. 

Oh, you want more? Okay.  Today, the giant plume of smoke spread out over Washington, creating Very Unhealthy and Hazardous air quality in the eastern part of the state. The smoke has been slowly inching its way our direction and is currently partially in Idaho. A northern section has already made its way into Northwest Montana, and air quality in Libby and Thompson Falls has rapidly deteriorated. (In fairness, Libby's air quality may also be taking a hit from the Callahan Fire, which has been pretty active today. The air quality in Thompson Falls is Hazardous. It's been hit with the smoke that's coming our way, which is bad news for those of us who enjoy breathing air.) 

If you check out the satellite, you can see there's a lot going on. I recommend you visit this link to the GOES 16 satellite to see the smoke movement in action: https://col.st/Lfs5Y. (It's hard to differentiate smoke movements from the still photo, and frankly it's amazing to see smoke moving in near-real time.)

The smoke we're most concerned about is at ground level and is blanketing Oregon and Washington. It looks like a partially cooked marshmallow that you dropped in the dirt and then stepped on. You know - gross and kind of sludgy. Above that layer, there is smoke higher up in atmosphere arcing across the Northwest. The smoke that's higher up is already above us, which is why the sky isn't what any of us would really consider blue, right now. Happily, that smoke is high overhead and isn't really affecting our air quality. (Air quality is currently Moderate across Missoula County.) Meanwhile, the fires in Idaho have had an active day, and they are sending out plumes that are going to be visible over the Bitterroot Valley.  Also, if you want extra smoke on top of your smoke, check out the fires in Oregon. A couple of them were able to send up plumes above the nasty marshmallow of sadness.  

The HRRR model has so far done a really good job predicting the day's smoke movement, so I'm feeling pretty good about the prediction of smoke rolling into the area by tomorrow morning. (And also terrible, because no one should breathe sludge.)

There is a good chance air quality in Missoula County will be Very Unhealthy or Hazardous on Sunday. We can hope for less, but based on what we're seeing at other monitors, it is reasonable to expect significant smoke impacts in Missoula County tomorrow morning.

If you have air conditioning, now would be a great time to think about closing your doors and windows.  The air quality is going to get progressively worse overnight, and the less smoke you let inside, the better. Everyone who can, should take measures to clean their indoor air when the smoke arrives.  Check out www.montanawildfiresmoke.org or my Smoke Ready blog for advice on using portable air cleaners, furnace filters or even building your own air cleaner to protect your indoor air quality. 

There's a chance the worst of the smoke will stay west and north of us. We're currently expecting to see the easternmost edge of the worst section of smoke. Whatever we do end up with will be with us for some time due to high pressure creating stable atmospheric conditions and preventing smoke from easily leaving the area.

 A satellite photo showing smoke from fires across the western United States

This evening's satellite photo shows smoke over the smoke that's covering the smoke. The smoke over Missoula is pretty far overhead. We can expect to see a plume from the Beaver Fire and worsening conditions as the evening wears on and smoke rolls into the area. Source: NASA GOES 16 Satellite.

 A satellite photo showing smoke from fires across the western United States

See that brown sludgy smear that's oozing out of Washington? The thing that makes it look like someone colored outside the lines? That's what will likely be in our breathing space tomorrow morning.  NASA GOES 16 Satellite.

A model run showing smoke over Missoula on Sunday 

The HRRR model continues to show thick smoke over western Montana on Sunday morning. Source: NOAA

 Breathe safe!


September 11, 2020 5:30 PM

We’re seeing a small amount of haze in the area, which has occasionally bumped our monitors up to Moderate air quality. It’s not terribly exciting quite yet, but it is on-the-ground evidence of the westerly flow that is bringing smoke our direction. 

In the immediate future, you can expect to see a plume of smoke over the Bitterroot Valley from the Beaver and Marion fires in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.  These fires have been increasing in activity over the past couple days as they burn through dead and dry vegetation.   

Tomorrow, we can expect hazy skies from fires burning in Idaho.  The general haze is likely to turn into thick smoke late Saturday night into Sunday morning as smoke from fires burning in the Pacific states finally makes its way to Western Montana. 

Current projections suggest we’re about to see our worst smoke event of the season and possibly the worst since 2017. Now, it’s hard for models to know what the actual air quality on the ground will be.  It’s possible the HRRR model is wildly overestimating surface level smoke. It’s currently suggesting the Missoula area will see smoke concentrations exceeding 100 µg/m3 by 6:00 a.m. on Sunday, and then it will get worse from there. For reference, the worst smoke we’ve seen so far this season topped out at 49 µg/m3 for a one-hour average.  There also isn’t anything in the forecast to suggest this will be a short-lived smoke incursion.  It may be with us for several days. (The actual duration of the smoke will depend on many factors, including fire activity, the timing of the high pressure breakdown, the arrival of a cold front, etc. I’ll keep you posted as we navigate the smoke event.) 

Please plan for heavy smoke.  The fine particulate matter in smoke is bad for you. When you breathe it in, it goes deep into your lungs and can pass into your bloodstream where it sets off an inflammatory response. It causes increased frequency and severity of asthma attacks, increased COPD symptoms, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, increased hospitalizations for pneumonia, and increased mortality. It affects your immune system and can make you more susceptible to infectious disease. It can harm developing lungs.  Smoke is particularly bad for children, the elderly, people with heart or lung disease, people with diabetes and pregnant people.  When it gets smoky outside, it is important to limit your exposure to the smoke. Avoid exerting yourself in the smoke and try to stay indoors, preferably in a place with cleaner air.   

Remember: going inside is a great first step, but it is important to do what you can to clean that indoor air. Just because the indoor air is cooler or air conditioned, that doesn’t mean it’s cleaner. There is a lot of great advice for creating cleaner indoor air at www.montanawildfiresmoke.org and my Smoke Ready Blog. 

Pay attention to changing conditions. You can check your local air quality at Montana's Today's Air website. If there are no monitors near you, look outside. If you can't see five miles, the air is Unhealthy and you should try stay indoors in a place with cleaner air.

In the image below, you can see the HRRR model’s projection for smoke levels at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday. Hint: The maroon is bad. The purple is worse. 

 An image from a HRRR model run showing smoke projected for Sunday morning, 9/13/2020

Source: NOAA 

 In this evening’s satellite photo you can see haze from nearby fires starting to cover the region. Smoke from the Beaver and Marion fires is starting to stretch across the Bitterroot Valley. Source: NASA GOES 16 satellite.  

 A satellite photo showing smoke from Idaho fires

In this zoomed out satellite photo, you can see smoke from multiple fires in Idaho, Washington, Canada, Oregon and California. The smoke currently over Oregon and southern Washington is headed our way, but it will take a while to get here.  In the meantime, we’ll see smoke from Idaho over western Montana on Friday. Source: NASA GOES 16 satellite.  

 A satellite photo showing smoke from fires across the western United States 

 

Breathe safe!


September 10, 2020 4:30 PM

I know there’s been a lot on everyone’s minds, and the last thing you want is a message telling you to prepare for more bad things. But here we are. You’ve probably (hopefully?) noticed Oregon is on fire. California, as you know, has been on fire for weeks. Here in Western Montana it’s been easy to pretend fire season is mostly over – after all, it got darn cold this week and it snowed on the mountains.  It was very pretty.  Unfortunately, we’re still in fire season, and our neighbors to the west are being hammered by fires and smoke.  The news articles are sobering. The photos are extraordinary. For the past week, fires in Washington, Oregon and California have been sending enormous plumes of smoke westward and out over the Pacific Ocean.  Check out that satellite photo below.  Thank goodness that smoke is over the ocean, right? Well. Don’t get too excited. 

We’ve enjoyed the benefits of northerly and easterly flow that has kept that smoke far from Montana, but our luck is about to run out.  The upper level winds are shifting.  They will come at us from the west and southwest, and they’re going to bring smoke along for the ride. 

To make matters worse, we are going to be under a high pressure ridge. You know how when we have high pressure, everything is kind of still, the sky is blue, and it’s warm and sunny outside? Kind of your picture-perfect late summer day? Well, imagine that, only add in a whole bunch of smoke that can’t go anywhere, gray skies and depressed temperatures. Basically, take all the nice things about high pressure and distort them into sadness. High pressure acts like a lid over our valleys; it makes inversion stronger and decreases atmospheric mixing. This means the smoke that arrives into our breathing space is going to get stuck. 

We’re looking at what may be a significant smoke event.  The smoke out over the ocean will be pushed back onto land, where it will join the smoke still being produced by the massive fires in the Pacific states. Then it’s all going to head our direction. The timing of its arrival is still in question, and we don’t know yet how much of it will mix down versus remaining aloft, but those of us who look at smoke want to make sure you know it’s coming. 

Here are the unknowns: 

  1. Timing: Currently, it looks like the wave of thick smoke may arrive in western Montana on Saturday, but it may hold off until Sunday. 
  2. Amount of smoke: The amount we see at ground level is dependent on how much smoke the fires continue to emit as well as the ability of the smoke to mix down to our breathing space. Models can show us smoke is heading our way, but they can’t be sure how much of it will enter the valley. 
  3. Duration: Initially, it looked like we’d get a break on Tuesday, but long-term projections show us under westerly or southwesterly flow well into next week.  The high pressure ridge should break down by midweek, which should, if nothing else, make it easier for smoke to lift up out of the valley floor. 

Also of note: there are fires burning in Idaho that are likely to start sending their smoke toward Missoula, possibly as soon as Friday.  Initially, these fires should not significantly impact our air quality beyond some haze, but that smoke will likely arrive before the Oregon smoke completes its cross-state travels. I’ll send out updates if/when the smoke impacts our air quality. 

Here’s what you should do: prepare for smoke’s arrival. Make sure your air cleaners are running, you have clean filters in your HVAC system, etc. If you don't have an air cleaner or central air handler, you still have time to make a DIY fan/filter combo to clean your indoor air.  There are all kinds of helpful information available for preparing for wildfire smoke at www.montanwildfiresmoke.org and my Smoke-Ready Blog.  Be aware that unless you’re actively taking steps to clean your indoor air, it will quickly match outdoor conditions. This is particularly true for large commercial spaces such as fitness centers and office buildings that use HVAC systems that draw outside air indoors. 

Once you’ve made a plan, get outside! We have some time before the smoke gets here, so take advantage of the beautiful weather and cleaner air. Pay attention to changing conditions, and when it gets bad, head inside and turn on your air cleaner with a true HEPA filter, turn on your DIY fan/filter combo, or turn on your central air handler’s furnace fan and push air through a high efficiency filter. 

And remember – this is a pretty long-range smoke forecast. There is still a lot of uncertainty. This smoke could be worse or a lot better than what we’re expecting.  Meteorologists in Washington, Idaho and Montana are all in agreement that this sucker is coming for us, though, so it’s reasonable to prepare. If you find yourself with some downtime, you might want to pop on over to the GOES 17 satellite and watch its approach. 

A satellite photos showing smoke over the Pacific ocean and smoke in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California

Small(ish) fires in Idaho will send us our first smoke, which be followed by the smoke behemoth making its way across the Pacific Northwest. Think of the Idaho smoke as the appetizer before the buffet. You know, if you like your meals to be somewhat toxic. 

Source: NASA GOES 17 Satellite. Link: https://rammb-slider.cira.colostate.edu/?sat=goes-16&z=3&im=12&ts=1&st=0&et=0&speed=130&motion=loop&map=1&lat=0&opacity%5B0%5D=1&hidden%5B0%5D=0&pause=20200910211019&slider=-1&hide_controls=0&mouse_draw=0&follow_feature=0&follow_hide=0&s=rammb-slider&sec=full_disk&p%5B0%5D=geocolor&x=4542&y=3360 

  

 The big picture. That’s a lot of smoke, you guys. 

Source: NASA GOES 17 Satellite. Link: https://rammb-slider.cira.colostate.edu/?sat=goes-16&z=3&im=12&ts=1&st=0&et=0&speed=130&motion=loop&map=1&lat=0&opacity%5B0%5D=1&hidden%5B0%5D=0&pause=20200910211019&slider=-1&hide_controls=0&mouse_draw=0&follow_feature=0&follow_hide=0&s=rammb-slider&sec=full_disk&p%5B0%5D=geocolor&x=4542&y=3360 


August 29, 2020 9:50 AM

The westerly winds aloft that were supposed to arrive and push all the smoke south of us let us down yesterday.  If you looked up last evening, you probably saw a surprising amount of smoke lurking overhead. The satellite photos showed a tendril of smoke reaching across the Northwest to prod at our region. It’s the darndest thing. I made a loop of it here: https://col.st/u1FVT. (Note it will take a while to load.) Most of the smoke stayed out of our breathing space, but enough of it is at ground level this morning that we’re seeing Moderate air quality and haze throughout the county.  

In all fairness, NOAA's HRRR Smoke tool foresaw this smoke.  I was too besotted with the improved air quality and the upper level winds forecast and model runs to check HRRR Smoke yesterday. You can find it here: https://hwp-viz.gsd.esrl.noaa.gov/smoke/ It's very cool.  Select the "Near Surface Smoke Layer" to see what the smoke is likely to do over the next several hours.

The folks in the Rock Creek area are likely seeing significantly more smoke than the rest of the county. The Cinnabar Fire has laid a lot of smoke down in those drainages overnight. We don’t have an air quality monitor in Rock Creek, so people in that area should use visibility as a guideline to determine air quality. If you can’t see five miles, the air quality is Unhealthy and you should stay inside in cleaner air as much as possible. 

We’re likely to continue to see haze for several hours today. The fires in Oregon are currently sending smoke our direction. There’s also California smoke vaguely pointed our way, but it should stay south of us. 

We are under a red flag warning today, which means we may see increased activity on the Cinnabar Fire. Smoke from that fire may be visible from the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys. 

The good folks at the National Weather Service report the cold front they’ve predicted for this weekend is imminent. When it arrives, our weather will drastically change for a couple days, and we should get a break from the smoke and haze.  (This is, of course, dependent on the fires in Washington and Canada keeping their smoke to themselves.)

Following the cold front, we’ll be under a northwesterly flow aloft heading into next week, which should keep smoke from Oregon and California south of us.   

Check current air quality at Montana’s Today’s Air website, and head on over to www.montanawildfiresmoke.org for tips on creating cleaner indoor air!   

A satellite photo showing smoke from California and Oregon wildfires over Montana  

In this morning’s satellite photo, you can see smoke trapped in Idaho and Montana valleys. You can also, if you look close, see the thick smoke in the Rock Creek drainage from the Cinnabar Fire. The smoke from Oregon fires is wafting our way from Washington right now. The California smoke is pointed at us, but will probably stay south.  Source: NASA GOES 17 satellite. Retrieved August 29, 2020 at 8:40 a.m. Link: https://rammb-slider.cira.colostate.edu/?sat=goes-17&z=4&im=12&ts=1&st=0&et=0&speed=130&motion=loop&map=1&lat=0&opacity%5B0%5D=1&hidden%5B0%5D=0&pause=20200829144032&slider=-1&hide_controls=0&mouse_draw=0&follow_feature=0&follow_hide=0&s=rammb-slider&sec=full_disk&p%5B0%5D=geocolor&x=13519&y=2539 


August 27, 2020 9:30 AM

I didn’t expect to provide an update today, but there’s some awfully stubborn smoke overhead and we’re still sitting at Moderate air quality in Missoula County. The GOES 17 satellite shows smoke from the California wildfires has been slow to move south. We have light haze and elevated particulate concentrations across the county.

However, the smoke’s time in our area is numbered. The overhead winds are starting to push it south. If you visit the GOES 17 RAMMB Slider website, rock the slider back and forth to see the smoke movement. Also, you should check out the GOES 17 satellite on principle. It is very cool.  When fires become active in the afternoon, I like to apply the “Fire Temperature” overlay and watch the terrifying glowy orange and red dots grow at the base of smoke plumes. (Currently, the most active fires are still in California and Oregon.)

You can also zoom out and watch the movement of Hurricane Laura, if weather that isn’t on fire is more your thing.  Note that the images are generally a half-hour behind real-time. Also, it takes some time after sunrise for there to be enough light to get a good image.  That’s why, if you go to the link this morning, you’ll see the first part of the sequence is dark. 

Anyway, we will have better air quality soon.  (I know it looks considerably better than earlier this week. The particulate concentrations are still slightly elevated, though, which is why you get one more smoke update from me.)

This may be it for significant smoke intrusions in our area. We aren’t looking at a return to southwesterly flow for at least a week.  I’ll be keeping an eye on the smaller fires burning in Oregon, Washington and Canada, but we aren’t likely to see a return of California smoke for quite some time.  For now, enjoy the better air quality, prepare for some cold Canadian air on Sunday and Monday, and do your best to avoid starting any wildfires.  Fire season isn’t over.  If we get more smoke, you’ll hear from me again.

Breathe safe!

A satellite photo showing smoke from California wildfires over Montana 

Smoke from California wildfires is slowly moving south of us as westerly flow becomes established overhead. Source: NASA GOES 17 Satellite. August 27, 2020 9:10 AM Link: https://rammb-slider.cira.colostate.edu/?sat=goes-17&z=4&im=12&ts=1&st=0&et=0&speed=130&motion=loop&map=1&lat=0&opacity%5B0%5D=1&hidden%5B0%5D=0&pause=20180724153038&slider=-1&hide_controls=0&mouse_draw=0&follow_feature=0&follow_hide=0&s=rammb-slider&sec=full_disk&p%5B0%5D=geocolor&x=13598&y=2412


August 26, 2020 9:45 AM

The air is better today. It’s not good, but it’s better. You can tell because there’s a western horizon this morning. Being able to differentiate mountains from sky is always a good sign.

Conditions are currently Moderate at our monitors in Missoula, Frenchtown and Seeley Lake.

The California smoke remains overhead, but it is finally starting to push south. It looks we’ll have some clearing this morning before the winds aloft dig back down to pull smoke from our southwest later this morning/afternoon for a last pulse of out-of-state smoke. Most of our incoming overhead air today will be from Oregon and northern California.  There is still a lot of smoke over Oregon, so we are unlikely to have clear skies. Also, apparently the fires in Oregon heard me poo-pooing their size over the last couple days.  There are a few fires sending out respectable plumes this morning, and they are, of course, aimed straight at us.

Word to the wise – don’t belittle natural disasters where they can hear you. Keep that nonsense to yourself.

Be alert for changing conditions. If the smoke over Oregon makes its way here, we could see rapidly deteriorating air quality later today.

The Cinnabar Fire remains active in the Rock Creek drainage. There is some thick smoke in the ravines and valleys in that drainage on today’s satellite image. We do not have an air quality monitor in Rock Creek. Folks there should use visibility as a guideline for determining smoke levels.  If you can’t see five miles, the air quality is unhealthy and you should stay inside in a place with cleaner air as much as possible.

Tomorrow will bring us the shift to westerly winds aloft that we’ve all been waiting for. The California and Oregon smoke will be pushed south and we’ll get most of our overhead air from Washington. This should lead to a marked improvement in air quality.

Check current air quality at Montana’s Today’s Air website, and head on over to www.montanawildfiresmoke.org for tips on creating cleaner indoor air!

A satellite photo showing smoke from California wildfires over Montana

In this morning’s satellite photo, you can see the overhead smoke that is contributing to our morning haze. There is also some fog in local valleys this morning. If you look closely at the Cinnabar Fire, you can see there is smoke in the narrow ravines and valleys. That smoke should lift up as the inversion breaks. If we manage to avoid cloud cover today, we may actually see a plume from that fire this afternoon.

A satellite photo showing smoke from California and Oregon

The California smoke has been pushed south this morning, but models are projecting a return to southwesterly winds aloft for the rest of today, which may bring us the smoke currently blanketing Oregon and northern California.

Satellite photos are retrieved from NASA’s GOES 17 satellite on August 26, 2020 at 9:10 a.m. Link: https://rammb-slider.cira.colostate.edu/?sat=goes-17&z=4&im=12&ts=1&st=0&et=0&speed=130&motion=loop&map=1&lat=0&opacity%5B0%5D=1&hidden%5B0%5D=0&pause=20180724153038&slider=-1&hide_controls=0&mouse_draw=0&follow_feature=0&follow_hide=0&s=rammb-slider&sec=full_disk&p%5B0%5D=geocolor&x=13331&y=2495


August 25, 2020 5:45 PM

We’ve seen some fluctuating air quality today. It went from somewhat murky to pretty murky and then back to somewhat murky. Or, for you technical folks, we hit Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups air quality across the county this afternoon, but we’re seeing improvements. Missoula returned to Moderate already and Frenchtown and Seeley Lake are trending that direction. Currently, particulate concentrations in Frenchtown and Seeley Lake remain at 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.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. 

While there are some improvements at ground level, we are still underneath California smoke. The plume has not pushed as far southward as I expected today, and we are still smack in the middle of it. Tonight will likely look quite similar to last evening, with continued haziness and lightly fluctuating smoke levels.  The high pressure ridge has not broken down, which means stable conditions will prevent smoke from truly clearing out this evening. 

On the bright side, with the cloud cover lessening, we may actually get a decent sunset this evening. You know, if glowing pink orbs are your thing. For now, it is very nice to see blue sky overhead. If you are rushing outside to revel in the evening sunshine, be aware that while the air is better, it’s not *clean.* Pay attention to how your body is responding to the smoke and try to limit your exposure. 

There’s still some disagreement between models regarding when the upper level winds are going to stop sending California smoke our way. It’s looking like we may still see smoke on Wednesday before the westerly flow truly starts setting later this week. 

Check current air quality at Montana’s Today’s Air website, and head on over to www.montanawildfiresmoke.org for tips on creating cleaner indoor air! 

Breathe safe! 

A satellite photo showing smoke from California wildfires over Montana 

Smoke from California wildfires continues to arc across the Pacific and Intermountain Northwest to blanket Montana and cause worsened air quality. There are a couple smaller fires in Oregon trying to add to the mixture, but they cannot currently compare to the massize plumes out of California.

Source: NASA GOES 16 Satellite. August 25, 2020 5:00 p.m. Link: https://rammb-slider.cira.colostate.edu/?sat=goes-16&z=3&im=12&ts=1&st=0&et=0&speed=130&motion=loop&map=1&lat=0&opacity%5B0%5D=1&hidden%5B0%5D=0&pause=20180724153038&slider=-1&hide_controls=0&mouse_draw=0&follow_feature=0&follow_hide=0&s=rammb-slider&sec=full_disk&p%5B0%5D=geocolor&x=5256&y=2898


August 25. 2020 9:15 AM

Yesterday evening, did you think to yourself, “That was a good ride. Let’s do it again!” I hope so, because today is shaping up to be Monday Part II. (Alternatively: Monday Redux, Monday All Over Again, Monday-Monday, the Monday Formerly Known as Tuesday, etc. You get my drift.)

Like yesterday, California smoke is blanketing Montana.  We have thick haze that is on the mid-to-upper edges of Moderate and flirting with Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.  There’s a good chance we’ll hit Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups later today.

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. 

The southwesterly flow delivering smoke to Montana is going to continue through today, which means we will have a constant stream of dirty air filtering into the county. The good news is there is some indication the smoke will start to shift south of us today. By midnight, most of our upper level air is going to be coming at us from Oregon. There are some fires in Oregon, but they’re considerably smaller than the ones in California, and less likely to significantly impact our air quality.  As the California smoke shifts south we should start to see improvements. By Thursday, we should have significantly cleaner air.

In today’s forecast there is, once again, a chance of afternoon/evening showers with a possible thunderstorm mixed in. (The National Weather Service is indicating most of the weather will likely remain south of Missoula County.)

The Cinnabar Fire grew substantially yesterday. (Note: As of this writing, the Inciweb page has not updated the fire’s acreage. It grew to about 2,000 acres yesterday.) The Cinnabar Fire is likely to send significant amounts of smoke down the Rock Creek drainage overnight. We do not have an air quality monitor in Rock Creek, so people in that area should use visibility as a guideline to determine their current conditions. If you can’t see five miles, the air quality is Unhealthy and you should stay inside in a place with cleaner air as much as possible.

Expect hazy conditions today. We have some cloud cover heading our way, so it will likely be another gray day. Don’t despair, though! This is a relatively short-lived smoke intrusion. We should have improved air quality and better visibility in the next day or so.  Check current air quality at Montana’s Today’s Air website, and head on over to www.montanawildfiresmoke.org for tips on creating cleaner indoor air!

A satellite photo showing smoke from California wildfires over Montana

Smoke from California is continuing to blanket our region. Heading into Wednesday and Thursday, that sweet, sweet clean air from Oregon and Washington will start making its way to our breathing space. As long as the fires west of us stay relatively small, we will have several days of improved air quality.  Current model projections don’t show a return to southwesterly flow through at least next Monday.

Source: NASA GOES 17 satellite. Image retrieved August 25, 2020 at 8:40 a.m. Link: https://rammb-slider.cira.colostate.edu/?sat=goes-17&z=4&im=12&ts=1&st=0&et=0&speed=130&motion=loop&map=1&lat=0&opacity%5B0%5D=1&hidden%5B0%5D=0&pause=20180724153038&slider=-1&hide_controls=0&mouse_draw=0&follow_feature=0&follow_hide=0&s=rammb-slider&sec=full_disk&p%5B0%5D=geocolor&x=13550.5&y=2573


August 24, 2020 5:30 PM 

The good news: smoke isn’t the only reason you can’t see the sky. There are a lot of clouds up there, too. The bad news: smoke is exactly the reason you can’t see the mountains. The air’s dirty, yo.

Smoke levels have stayed relatively constant today, but they took a swing for the worse this afternoon and we’re seeing Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups air quality throughout 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.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

The southwesterly winds aloft ushering smoke into our area will continue at least into Tuesday morning.  I’m not expecting any major changes in our air quality going into this evening. If anything, it may get a bit worse as more smoke is delivered and makes its way to the valley floor before mixing shuts down. Air quality *may* hit Unhealthy. Be sure to check the Montana Today’s Air website for near-real-time particulate concentrations (updates are 15 minute past the hour).

One question will be the impacts of the moisture headed our way this evening. If you look at the radar, there’s a decent spot of moisture that looks like it will at least clip Missoula County. The system is coming from the same direction as the smoke, so there’s a darn good chance we’ll see smoky showers. There’s always a little bit of hope the moisture will knock down the smoke a bit, but this is a weather system that is accompanying smoke instead of whisking into a previously smoky area and maybe bringing clean air with it.  Also, if you remember the Smoky Fog Monster from November 30, 2012, you’re familiar with the phenomenon of smoke being unconcerned with moisture.  On that day, a very wet system planted itself over our region and trapped all the smoke produced by outdoor burning on the valley floor in the Hellgate Canyon and Blackfoot Corridor. It was very bad. The good news is we don’t have the cold temperatures or fog, so we aren’t going to have November 2012 conditions this evening. My point is simply that it can be rainy and smoky at the same time. (If a unicorn can be a horse and a narwhale at the same time, the outside can be rainy and smoky at the same time.)

I could also be wrong and we’ll have better air quality when the system arrives.  I’ll just be surprised and wrong at the same time. There are worse ways to spend a Monday evening.

Once the high pressure ridge we’re under starts to break down we will get westerly winds delivering cleaner air from Washington. Unfortunately, there is currently model disagreement for when that’s going to take place. I’m seeing indications that it could be as far away as Thursday and as soon as Tuesday.

The good news is that even the process of breaking down should lead to air quality improvements; in addition to delivering California wildfire smoke, the ridge we’re under is making it very hard for that smoke to leave the valleys.  As the ridge starts to break down, smoke should be able to leave easier and the gradual shifting of upper level wind direction will bring us air from less smoky areas.  As that happens, the California smoke will be pushed south of us, where it will make other people less happy.

The timing is a huge question mark, though. I’ll keep you posted as we head into the week!

I don’t have a zoomed-in satellite photo for you today because we are blanketed in clouds and it’s not particularly useful for explaining the smoke we’re seeing. However, you can hop on over to the GOES 16 RAMMB Slider and check out the bigger picture. The California fires are just now starting to push out significant plumes of smoke today that are, of course, pointed straight at us.

I do, however, have a zoomed-out satellite photo. If you thought we were the only ones getting a dose of California smoke, I’d like to introduce you to the good folks of the Midwest.

Breathe safe!

A satellite photo showing smoke from California wildfires over the United States

Source: NASA GOES 16 Satellite. Retrieved August 24, 2020, 4:30 p.m. Link: https://rammb-slider.cira.colostate.edu/?sat=goes-16&z=0&im=12&ts=1&st=0&et=0&speed=130&motion=loop&map=1&lat=0&opacity%5B0%5D=1&hidden%5B0%5D=0&pause=20200824205021&slider=-1&hide_controls=0&mouse_draw=0&follow_feature=0&follow_hide=0&s=rammb-slider&sec=full_disk&p%5B0%5D=geocolor&x=10848&y=10848


August 24, 2020 9:30 AM 

You probably noticed things got a bit hazy last night. I’m sure by now, you all know that when the sun turns a bright magenta it means we’re seeing a lot of particulate in the air. (Of course, it is 2020. Maybe the dinosaurs are coming back, and a glowing pink sun is their herald. We will turn to it to welcome our reptilian overlords.)

2020 aside, a pink sun generally means wildfire smoke is in the area.  The thick haze obscuring the mountains was also an excellent clue.

Southwesterly winds aloft swept smoke from California into our area last night, causing significant haze and degraded air quality. We saw moderate air quality last night, and that’s where we’re sitting across the county this morning. I know it looks a lot worse than that, and this is where I tell you, “Yep.” We’re hovering really close to the cutoff for Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, and I’m going to let you in on a secret: Those health category numerical cutoffs? They’re basically a best guess. There is no reason to pretend the amount of smoke we’re seeing is meaningless for people who are sensitive to wildfire smoke.  

The “sensitive groups” category includes the elderly, children, people with heart or lung disease, people with diabetes and pregnant people. That’s a lot of folks. Wildfire smoke increases symptoms of asthma and COPD, reduces lung function, increases risk of heart attack and stroke, and can lead to increased hospitalizations for pneumonia, increased susceptibility to infectious disease such as flu, and increased mortality. It’s nasty stuff. So, be kind to your body. Avoid breathing in more smoke than necessary and spend time inside in a place with cleaner air. Check out www.montanawildfiresmoke.org for resources about creating cleaner indoor air spaces.  There are also links to my Smoke-Ready Blogs on that website.

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.  

Ok, so we’ve established it’s hazy and currently Moderate(ish) to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. What does the future hold? Well, it holds more smoke. The southwesterly flow that’s delivering smoke to our area is going to be in place until about Wednesday. We’re going to continue seeing haze and elevated particulate concentrations until we start getting wind from another direction.  The inversion should break between 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. this morning, at which point the smoke in our valleys will likely lift. However, we will continue to see fresh smoke delivered into our region throughout the day, which means air quality impacts will likely continue.

A couple things that may affect our air quality today:

  1. Local and Idaho wildfires. The Shissler Fire is still burning in Idaho, and its plume will likely be pointed our direction, thanks to that southwesterly flow. The Marion Fire is a small fire burning in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. It is closer to us than the Shissler Fire, and if it gets going, we may see smoke from that fire. The Cinnabar Fire was actively burning last night. It is unlikely to send smoke into the Bitterroot or Missoula Valleys, but it is in the Rock Creek drainage, so folks in that area are likely to see elevated particulate concentrations, particularly in the morning.If you are in Rock Creek, you will need to use visibility guidelines to determine air quality because there are no air monitors in the area. If you can’t see five miles, the air quality is Unhealthy and you should stay inside in a place with cleaner air if possible.
  2. Weather. We are going to see some weather today.The National Weather Service is expecting strong winds and possibly some showers by this evening. However, the surface winds may not be tremendously helpful, since the overhead smoke is just going to keep pouring into the area throughout the day. Also, the weather is coming from the same direction as the smoke.This isn’t one of those fun incoming cold fronts that shifts everything around and delivers clean air from Canada. Instead, this is our typical, southwesterly summer weather, and it’s going to be accompanied by smoke. I’m not saying we won’t see some improvement at ground level, but I’m somewhat skeptical. The real improvement will come when the upper level winds become more westerly on Wednesday or Thursday. (This, of course, is predicated on Washington refraining from catching on fire in the interim.)

In summary: the air’s not great. Conditions are hovering between Moderate and Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups at our monitors, and that’s likely to hold true throughout the day.

A satellite photo showing smoke from California wildfires over Montana

Smoke from California wildfires is blanketing our region. The clouds and some associated weather are headed our way, but underneath those clouds is more smoke. Because if there’s one thing we needed in 2020, it’s sneaky smoke.  GOES 17 Satellite photo retrieved August 24, 2020, 8:10 a.m. Link: https://rammb-slider.cira.colostate.edu/?sat=goes-17&z=4&im=12&ts=1&st=0&et=0&speed=130&motion=loop&map=1&lat=0&opacity%5B0%5D=1&hidden%5B0%5D=0&pause=20180724153038&slider=-1&hide_controls=0&mouse_draw=0&follow_feature=0&follow_hide=0&s=rammb-slider&sec=full_disk&p%5B0%5D=geocolor&x=13845.5&y=2237


August 22, 2020 9:45 AM

Last evening’s smoke remained in the valleys overnight, but conditions have improved since sunrise. We are seeing Moderate air quality across the county this morning, and it’s currently improving by the hour. While there’s less smoke in the valley floor, a fair bit of it is still hanging overhead, which is why the sun looks a rather anemic.

Seeley Lake has more smoke than Missoula, but conditions remain Moderate at that monitor.

The Bitterroot Valley saw a lot of smoke last night. There’s been some improvement this morning, but conditions are currently Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in the Bitterroot Valley.

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider. 

The California smoke plume should stay south of Missoula County today, which means we are unlikely to see significant air quality impacts from those fires in the very near future.  In addition, a cold front is expected to clip our area this afternoon and it will bring strong northwesterly winds to scour remaining smoke.

In short – we had our first foray into the 2020 wildfire smoke season last night, but it was relatively short-lived and today should be better.  We may continue to see some haze, but unless you are very sensitive to smoke, it shouldn’t be enough to wreck your weekend plans.

The winds aloft should keep the California smoke south of us until Monday, at which point it may become California smoke time all the time.  We will be under a southwesterly flow that will usher smoke our direction from any upwind fires. Or, you know, all of California. So get outside this weekend, enjoy the not-as-bad-as-it-could-be air, and soak in these waning days of August!

Disclaimer: if a new fire starts near Missoula County, conditions will likely rapidly deteriorate. This air quality update is contingent on the fire situation remaining unchanged. Drown your campfires, keep chains from dragging, etc. Let’s keep the air ok!

A satellite photo showing smoke from California wildfires over southern Montana


August 21, 2020 6:30 PM

Remember how I said the California smoke would probably come back? Called it! That haze you’re seeing is from the massive fires burning in California. The smoke was tracking south of us for most of the day, but we’re currently sitting about dead center inside the northernmost plume.  In this evening’s zoomed out satellite photo you can get an idea of the amount of smoke the fires are sending across the country.  It’s a bit shocking. Western Montana is also starting to see fun and exciting new smoke from the Shissler Fire burning in Idaho. That smoke is currently moving over the Bitterroot Valley.

Currently, our monitors are sitting at Moderate across the county. However, conditions in Frenchtown are rapidly approaching Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. As we get deeper into the evening, there is a good chance more smoke will mix down and be stuck in the valley overnight.

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with heart or lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.  Anyone experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

It doesn’t look like the Shissler Fire plume is going to swing up and hit the Missoula Valley terribly soon, but if the smoke mixes down this evening and gets trapped in the northern Bitterroot Valley, it could make its way into Missoula in the morning.  Remember how smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire hit Missoula around 10 a.m. most mornings during the 2017 fire season? No? Just me? You mean every smoke detail from 2017 isn’t carved into your memory? Fine. For the non-air quality nerds out there or those who’ve (understandably) purged 2017 from their memories, most mornings during the 2017 fire season we would have a bubble of clean air over Missoula, and if you looked south you could see smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire piling up just outside the valley. The smoke was trapped outside the inversion layer that formed overnight in the Missoula Valley floor.  (It was very cool. I mean, awful, because it was a lot of smoke, but also very cool.) When the inversion inevitably broke, smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire would flow into Missoula, typically following the Bitterroot River. If smoke from the Shissler Fire mixes down into the Bitterroot with any intensity tonight, we could see something similar in the morning.

Of course, there’s also a decent chance it will hit us later tonight, too. Or it won’t come down at all. It’s really all in the timing. Sometimes smoke remains overhead because by the time it shows up, the atmosphere has stopped mixing. Other times, it shows up right before the atmosphere stops mixing, so it gets pulled down to the ground and becomes trapped under the inversion layer.

As I write this, we’re still seeing some atmospheric mixing. That’s why it’s suddenly super hazy outside; the overhead California smoke is being pulled down to the valley floor.  We’re likely to continue seeing hazy conditions this evening due to the plume feeding smoke into our area. Mixing should shut down around sunset tonight, at which point we’ll be stuck with whatever smoke is in the valley until morning. There aren’t any significant winds in the overnight forecast to clear it out.

The Bitterroot Valley looks to be lined up with more smoke than the Missoula Valley, so folks there should stay alert to changing conditions, check their local air quality and stay inside in a place with cleaner air as much as possible.

Check your current air quality at Montana’s Today’s Air website: http://svc.mt.gov/deq/todaysair/AirDataMap.aspx

Find helpful tips for limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke at www.montanawildfiresmoke.org.

Breathe safe!

Satellite photo of wildfire smoke. August 21, 2020

Smoke from the Shissler Fire is arcing over the Bitterroot Valley. Photo is from the GOES 16 satellite,  August 21, 2020 5:00 p.m. Link: https://rammb-slider.cira.colostate.edu/?sat=goes-16&z=5&im=12&ts=1&st=0&et=0&speed=130&motion=loop&map=1&lat=0&opacity%5B0%5D=1&hidden%5B0%5D=0&pause=20180724153038&slider=-1&hide_controls=0&mouse_draw=0&follow_feature=0&follow_hide=0&s=rammb-slider&sec=full_disk&p%5B0%5D=geocolor&x=5326&y=2668

Satellite photo of wildfire smoke. August 21, 2020

Fires burning in California continue to send massive amounts of smoke across the country. Zoomed out, it’s much easier to see how fortunate we are to currently be on the edges of the plumes. Photo is from the GOES 16 satellite,  August 21, 2020 5:00 p.m. Link: https://rammb-slider.cira.colostate.edu/?sat=goes-16&z=5&im=12&ts=1&st=0&et=0&speed=130&motion=loop&map=1&lat=0&opacity%5B0%5D=1&hidden%5B0%5D=0&pause=20180724153038&slider=-1&hide_controls=0&mouse_draw=0&follow_feature=0&follow_hide=0&s=rammb-slider&sec=full_disk&p%5B0%5D=geocolor&x=5326&y=2668

 


 

August 20, 2020 10:30 a.m.

I’m sure you noticed the light was a bit off this morning.  You know, a bit glowy, maybe? The sky looks blue straight overhead, but kind of hazy and whitish around the edges? Did you notice the view looking south isn’t that great? 

This, my friends, is because we are underneath the northern edges of a massive plume of smoke.  Seriously. Scroll down and check out that satellite photo. I mean, it’s been a while since we’ve seen smoke like this, so soak it in. It’s a lot.  

We’ve been fortunate to have a quiet wildfire season so far in Western Montana. California, less so. I know there’s a lot in the news these days, but in case you’ve missed it, California is on fire.  In the past couple days, the fires in northern California have seen significant growth, and they are sending smoke across the country. (In fairness, there are also some fires in Oregon that may be sending smoke our direction, but they are much smaller than the California fires.) 

Happily for us, the smoke has been staying mostly overhead, but the inversion is breaking and we’re seeing some of it mix down to the valley floor. Conditions are holding steady at Moderate this morning across the county, but as the smoke descends, we may see air quality deteriorate. I will send out another update if smoke becomes Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups or worse. For now, I wanted to draw your attention to the smoke in our region an encourage you to be alert for changing conditions. 

The bulk of the plume will likely continue to veer south of us, and there are some strong northwesterly surface winds in the forecast that may help clear smoke out of the valley this afternoon, so any air quality impacts may be relatively short-lived. 

We will be under a southwesterly flow aloft for the next several days, which could intermittently bring California wildfire smoke back to our skies. Be alert for changing conditions and have a plan: 

  1. Check local air quality at TodaysAir.mt.gov or look outside. If you cannot see at least five miles, the air is unhealthy and you should stay inside in cleaner air as much as possible. 
  2. Close doors and windows 
  3. Use a HEPA portable air cleaner, box fan/filter combo or high efficiency filters in your HVAC system to clean your indoor air. 

 

In case you didn’t feel like reading my long-form smoke-ready blogs earlier this summer, they’re all still available online here: https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/health/health-department/home-environment/air-quality/wildfire-smoke-resources-and-blog 

Also, be sure to check out www.montanawildfiresmoke.org for great information, videos and infographics about preparing for wildfire smoke! 

I’ve attached the outdoor activities guide and a handy handout (see what I did there) with simple steps to follow during wildfire season to help you prepare should more smoke arrive in our breathing space.

Breathe safe! 

 Satellite photo of wildfire smoke. August 20, 2020

 GOES-17 Satellite photo. Massive amounts of smoke from fires burning in northern California are blanketing California, Nevada and southern Idaho and Montana. August 20, 2020, 9:50 a.m. Link: https://rammb-slider.cira.colostate.edu/?sat=goes-17&z=3&im=12&ts=1&st=0&et=0&speed=130&motion=loop&map=1&lat=0&opacity%5B0%5D=1&hidden%5B0%5D=0&pause=20200820154032&slider=-1&hide_controls=0&mouse_draw=0&follow_feature=0&follow_hide=0&s=rammb-slider&sec=full_disk&p%5B0%5D=geocolor&x=13989&y=2712

 


 

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

November 3, 2019 10:00 AM