Wildfire smoke now leaves Washington with worst air quality in the nation

NASA MODIS satellite image of Western Washington on Aug. 4, 2017.

SEATTLE -- Forget Los Angeles, there's a new gunky air leader this month -- right here in the Pacific Northwest.

Already with air worse than China, Washington continues to have the distinction of having the worst air quality in the nation right now as smoke from several wildfires in British Columbia continues to blanket the region.

The Department of Ecology also provided this grim look at our air with this snapshot of air quality monitors from Thursday -- just a handful of spots in the "moderate" category with everyone else in the "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups" or worse.

"We've never seen numbers like this across the board," said Mike Ragan with the Department of Ecology. "When the state's cleanest air monitor hits very high levels of pollution, you know it's bad."

MORE | Current Air Quality Reading

Ecology officials say getting these kind of readings in Central and Eastern Washington is not unusual during wildfire season, but it's rare to have the entire state so socked in.

"We knew a lot of smoke would transport from the B.C. fires, but this really is unprecedented," said Ranil Dhammapala, an Ecology atmospheric scientist.

Case in point, Cheeka Peak, which is off the northwestern tip of Washington near Cape Flattery and usually has among the cleanest air in the state.

"Last year at this time, Cheeka Peak read 1 microgram per meter. This morning, it had a reading of 208," Ragan said. "Cheeka Peek is near a shipping lane on the coast. That's not where we expect to see dense air pollution."

When will this smoke go away?

Already some improvement has been seen along the coast away from the Strait of Juan de Fuca outflow and the far North Sound, where weak onshore flow has not only cooled them from the 80s/90s to the 60s/70s, but has blown some of the smoke inland. But the breezes have not been enough to scour out the interior, which was still baking in the upper 80s and 90s Friday.

Weak onshore flow is expected to remain on Saturday -- perhaps giving some slight mixing and improvement to the western half of the state -- especially in the afternoon and early evening -- but it will remain smoky and will get worse at night as the winds abate.

Light winds will remain the forecast in the interior through the middle-to-later part of next week, meaning while some afternoon light seabreezes may give slight improvement, we'll never really clear out the smoke during the period. Plus it's possible more smoke may blow in early next week. It's not until we get into about Friday of next week that forecast models indicate a stronger push of marine air that should start to scour out the smoke and maintain westerly winds aloft to push the B.C. smoke off to the east.

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