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Another smoky summer could be on Washington’s horizon

Published on June 22, 2021

A view of the water and the Seattle skyline with wildfire smoke haze.
Wildfire smoke from West Seattle in 2018. Image Credit: SounderBruce CC BY-SA 2.0

Record-breaking rainfall drenched Seattle and Olympia on Sunday. Even with the wet weather and snowpack in the Cascades about 40% deeper than normal for this time of year, western Washington could be in for a smoky summer from forest fires.

Much of eastern Washington and most of the western United States are experiencing severe droughts, priming forests and grasslands there for wildfires.

Last summer, western Washington got hit with wildfire smoke from almost every direction, with most of the smoke coming from beyond the state’s borders, according to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

“It was really just a giant blob of smoke from all over California and Oregon,” Puget Sound Clean Air Agency scientist Phil Swartzendruber said.

Though fire severity is hard to forecast, the current tinder-dry conditions in much of the West leave the Seattle area ripe for a repeat.

“I would say Northern California is the area to watch now because it’s extremely dry,” said Dan Jaffe, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington–Bothell. “It’s pretty common that we get smoke coming out of Northern California and Oregon.”

Smoke from out-of-state and in-state wildfires has led to days, even weeks, of hazardous air quality, prompting many to stay indoors during a season when many aim to be outside.

“You don’t have to spend a lot of money to actually do a pretty good job of protecting your indoor air quality,” Jaffe said.

Instructions for making a home smoke filter from the University of Washington’s School of Public Health

Some face masks that stop the spread of Covid-19 might also come in handy during smoke season.


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Originally written by John Ryan for
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