‘Smokestorm’ suffocates state

LONG BEACH — This week on the one-year anniversary of the total solar eclipse, local residents could once again momentarily look the sun in the eye as a thick blanket of filtering smoke turned sunrise into a otherworldly orange spectacle.

Virtually all of Washington and Oregon were covered by an air quality alert issued by the National Weather Service. This made for less-than-ideal flying weather for Washington State International Kite Festival’s early events, which started Monday in Long Beach.

The alert is set to expire at 5 p.m. Wednesday, when clean ocean air is forecast to begin pushing out wildfire smoke coming from British Columbia and Eastern Washington.

Air pollution became incrementally worse as the day went on Tuesday in Pacific County due to microscopically small particulates in smoke borne on the winds from hundreds of miles away. At Washington’s Air Monitoring site in South Bend — the only one in the county — a standardized rating of pollution climbed to 202 between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Tuesday, resulting in a warning of “Very Unhealthy.” This followed a steady increase from 163 at 4 a.m. to 177 at 7 p.m. to 189 at 8 a.m.

These Washington Air Quality Advisory or WAQA values include measurements of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particle pollution and fine inhalable particles, and sulfur dioxide.

“I knew the air was heavy. Makes breathing harder,” a county resident said in response to similar conditions Sunday. Another said, “All yesterday my throat hurt, this morning also — makes sense now.”

Remarking on the air quality alert, University of Washington meteorologist Cliff Mass said the NWS “won’t use the term smokestorm, but the threat to vulnerable folks will be serious.”

Elsewhere in the state on Tuesday, a wide area around Puget Sound was experiencing air in the “Very Unhealthy” range, with WAQA reading above 200. In Southwest Washington, Chehalis also was in the “Very Unhealthy” range by 8 a.m., while Cheeka Peak on the Washington coast near Neah Bay was at the worst “Hazardous” level, with a WAQA of 306.

Until the smoke abates in Pacific County, the “Very Unhealthy” warning means “Everyone should stay indoors, avoid all strenuous activity, close windows and doors if it’s not too hot, set your air conditioning to recirculate, and use a HEPA air filter if possible,” according to the Washington State Department of Health.

Health problems caused by wildfire smoke can range from asthma attacks to stinging eyes. Other issues can include chest pain, a fast heartbeat, coughing, trouble breathing, irritated sinuses and headaches.

Air quality throughout the country can be viewed at fortress.wa.gov/ecy/enviwa.

Alyssa Evans is a staff writer for the Chinook Observer. Contact her at 360-642-8181 or aevans@chinookobserver.com

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