Rain will help wash away wildfire smoke, air quality will improve

Air quality health index expected to drop to "low" in the Lower Mainland by Saturday; intrepid journalist creates fascinating time-lapse video of smoke's shift this past week

The weather giveth and the weather taketh away.

Friday’s precipitation will help wash away the smoke that has stubbornly settled over the Lower Mainland for the past eight days, says Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Carmen Hartt.

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It should also help firefighters battle the wildfires in Washington State and Oregon.

“We’ve got some showers already over the West Coast and we're expecting that to continue inland over the next day or so. With that, we're also seeing a change in wind patterns,” Hartt said on Friday morning. “For example, this morning Victoria really dropped their air quality index. They've been moderate to extreme for the past week solid and now they're in the very low category. Vancouver's on its way to the low category. It's probably going to stick around moderate today and then be low by Saturday.”

The rain helps by literally washing the smoke’s fine particulate matter — the airborne soot from the fires — away.

“A lot of the smoke has been trapped here,” she says. “It was really bad last weekend when it was really coming in quickly and in the past few days it just sloshed around almost. There was not a lot of new injection of smoke but the old smoke was circulating around.”

In this sadly mesmerizing time-lapse video, local journalist Nathan Griffiths used satellite imagery from NASA to depict what conditions were like when the air quality health index registered 10+, the highest rating. (We share it with permission.)


Watch wildfire smoke blanket Metro Van/Seattle/Victoria in this satellite timelapse 🛰 from r/vancouver

While fires have been terrifyingly burning their way through American coastal states, B.C. has been relatively spared from forest fires. There are 21 active fires in the province, according to the B.C. wildfire service dashboard. Eleven are in the southeast region of the province, seven are in the Kamloops region and three are in the coastal region. Most of the smoke has remained localized, however, Hartt says.

People living near the New Westminster Pier Park fire were dealing with the double whammy of the forest fire smoke and the pier fire. That smoke has diminished since Tuesday night and remains highly localized. (Watch a video of the pier's iconic W coming down here.)

While Hartt predicts the fires in California to continue burning for the next few months, coastal Washington State and Oregon share the same wet, cooling effects of autumn storm systems.

“We could see another setup where smoke is seen again if those fires continue like they're expected to but we wouldn't expect the smoke to be as long lasting just because we are moving from summer to fall,” Hartt said on the eighth consecutive morning of smoke in southern B.C.. “As long as those fires are burning we have to have some small level of concern here.”

As to this weekend’s forecast, on Sunday, the sun is expected to peak out during the day, with cloudy periods at night. Monday is expected to be sunny with a high of 20 degrees, while Tuesday is expected to see a mix of sun and cloud. After that, rain is expected to move into the region, a low-pressure system from the Pacific brings significant precipitation to coastal B.C.

— With files from Vancouver is Awesome.

Martha Perkins is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.



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