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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Air Quality Update For Western Montana, August 1, 2018

Smoke from Oregon and California fires arcs over Montana in this satellite image taken August 1.

Today's air report courtesy of Missoula City-County Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield:

Good morning, no, you’re not imagining things. That really is wildfire smoke dimming the morning sun.

Wildfire smoke season 2018 is officially upon us! Now, before you break out the balloons and streamers (or, alternatively, curl up into a quivering ball – we don’t judge), you should know the smoke we’re seeing is from very far away and is still very high above us. Fires in California and Oregon have been sending smoke our direction for the past several days, and while it’s been messing with our sunshine and mountain views, relatively little of it has hit the valley floor. The air has looked worse than it is, and air quality has been generally Moderate (and frequently Good) in Missoula County all week.

First, the bad news – based on mixing heights this afternoon, there’s a decent chance more of that smoke is going to come down to the valley floor. If this happens, we may see air quality deteriorate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. Also, based on upper elevation wind patterns, we’re likely to continue to see smoke from Oregon and California headed our way into Thursday.

Now the good news – the high pressure ridge that’s pushing the smoke our direction will break down starting Thursday, and the West Coast smoke should be south of us by Friday. A dry cold front it set to arrive Thursday afternoon, and the strong winds on Thursday and Friday should do a good job scouring the valleys clear of West Coast smoke remnants.

Now the bad news again – dry cold fronts are pretty scary during fire season. If we get lightning or have any fires start before the cold front gets here, we could end up with active fire behavior. Fortunately, we do not currently have any significant nearby fires to be stirred up by the front, but it’s something to keep in mind. Be very careful while out and about. Make sure you aren’t dragging any chains, do not flick cigarette butts out your vehicle window, and if you have a campfire, make sure it is dead out before you walk away from it. I mean, stick your hand in that puppy. Roll it all around in the ash. If you don’t want to do that with your dead campfire, it’s not dead enough.

We’ve had a nice break from wildfire smoke (at least compared to last year), but technically the season is still young. Be alert for changing conditions and bookmark Montana’s Today’s Air website so you can keep track of the smoke we’re seeing at our monitors.

Breathe safe!

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