Why is it so smoky across the Pacific Northwest?
The Tri-Cities continued to stew in smoky air Monday, with only slight improvement in the air quality.
On Sunday the air quality was rated as “hazardous,” the worst in recent memory. Monday, the rating had been upgraded a category to “very unhealthy.”
Everyone was advised to stay inside with doors and windows closed, if possible.
Memorial Aquatic Park in Pasco and George Prout Aquatic Complex in Richland both closed for a second day in a row Monday because of the poor air quality.
Kennewick Parks and Recreation canceled adult softball. It closed its pool Sunday because of the smoke, and that was the last day the pool was scheduled to be open this summer.
Most area schools planned to move sports practices and any other outdoor activities inside until air quality improves.
Student athletes should check with their coaches or schools to see where they should report for practices.
At the Hanford vitrification plant, union construction workers assigned to outdoor jobs or to jobs in indoor areas without filtered air were sent home Monday morning.
Workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation’s environmental cleanup contractor, CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., were being assigned to work indoors, if possible.
Those who continued to work outdoors could opt to use respiratory protection.
Some restaurants in their Tri-Cities closed their patios to diners because of the poor air, protecting diners and their staff from the smoke.
The Tri-City Dust Devils baseball team canceled its game on Sunday with Everett because of the poor air quality, and may make it up Sept. 1 at Everett.
Monday’s game with the Vancouver Canadians went ahead as scheduled.
The last time the Dust Devils had to postpone a game was Aug. 4, 2017, against Boise, also for smoky air. They resumed the game the following day.
The National Weather Service has extended its air quality alert for the Mid-Columbia, including the Tri-Cities, until at least noon Thursday.
The Washington Department of Ecology said on its smoke blog that it did not expect Eastern Washington air to start to clear until Friday.
The alert comes as the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo starts Tuesday.
“The fair is open rain or shine,” said Lori Lancaster, fair executive director.
No changes have been planned based on weather or air quality, she said.
Air quality varied across the Tri-Cities. The National Weather Service reported that visibility in Pasco on Monday afternoon was just 1.25 miles but in Richland it was 4 miles.
A breeze from the north Monday helped mix and disperse smoke a bit in the Tri-Cities, helping to reduce air quality designation from “hazardous.”
But the breeze was a mixed blessing.
The wind also carried smoke from fires in Northern Washington and British Columbia into low-lying areas like the Mid-Columbia, where it became trapped under a high-pressure system.
The gusty winds forecast Monday also increased the area’s fire danger. A red flag fire alert was issued for much of Eastern Washington until 9 p.m. Monday.
Winds with sustained speeds of 15 to 17 mph and gusts up to 32 mph would cause any wildfire that starts to spread quickly, according to the weather service.
Humidity was low Monday morning, with some improvement expected throughout the day.
Dr. Katherine Cayetano, a pulmonologist at Kadlec Clinic in Richland, said even the healthiest people, including teens and athletes, should not be exercising outdoors.
“Even walking the dog is hard now,” she said. It’s not only unhealthy for the dog owner but also the animal.
She recommends people who spend anytime outdoors wear masks with small enough pores to filter out smoke particles. They should be rated N95 and can be purchased at home improvement and hardware stores.
Surgical masks don’t protect against smoke particles.
The Department of Ecology recommends that people check with their doctors about whether people should leave the area when smoke is at its worst.
But that may not be practical, Cayetano said, as smoke blankets much of the region.
Most of Oregon, Idaho and Washington have smoky air now. The best bet for cleaner air may be to head to the Pacific coast where sea breezes have improved air quality.
But even the Seattle area and most of the Interstate 90 corridor in Washington had air quality rated as “unhealthy” on Monday.
Healthy people in the Tri-Cities may be feeling the effects of the smoky air with symptoms like sneezing, watery eyes, runny noses and post nasal drip, she said.
People with chronic health conditions may be coughing and be short of breath, she said.
The clinic has told its patients with breathing issues, particularly those who are older or use oxygen, to cancel their routine appointments and stay home until air quality improves.
Kadlec pulmonolgists have been kept busy with people with chronic illnesses who are having increased troubles because of the poor air quality.