Extreme Temperature Diary-November 18, 2018/ Topic: Where There Is Fire There Is Smoke…California’s Sick Air

Sunday November 18th… Dear Diary. The main purpose of this ongoing post will be to track United States extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials)😊. 

Where There Is Fire There Is Smoke…California’s Sick Air

One item on the old climate change check list I haven’t covered so far on this site has been poor air quality during and in the aftermath of large scale wildfires. It stands to reason that with more and larger wildfires due to a hotter planet that there will be larger and thicker areas of smoke. Right? Of Course! But there is more to making bad situations worse due to smoke on some areas of the planet. We’ll take California as a prime example since it is on everyone’s minds.

If a large fire occurs late in the year or in winter near the Sacramento Valley, outside of seasonal norms as was the case with the Camp Fire that unfortunately destroyed Paradise, and a pesky upper ridge remains in place, inversions (in met speak) may occur. A longer night during the cold seasons allow chillier air to pool in the Sacramento Valley and near San Francisco causing sinking motion trapping any particulates in relatively low lying areas. If those particulates happen to be smoke instead of moisture you get a dire situation with soot not moving out of the area until a front moves in from the Pacific, scouring out dirty air. Inversions trapping unhealthy smoke will just add to California’s misery as apparently large fires become year round affairs due to climate change.  

The following satellite photo was taken over California when what is called Tule fog takes place:

You can see the typical area affected by fog in the Sacramento Valley and San Francisco Bay regions when an inversion takes place over California from November through March. This satellite photo was taken in 2005. This year much of the fog has been replaced by smoke. 

Here is a graphic explaining the Tule fog set up:


In these satellite loops you can see how the smoke is pooling in the Sacramento Valley then moving west offshore of north-central California: 

I’ll refer briefly to the following New York Times article:

Quoting the first part of the New York Times piece referred  to by Bill McKibben, which I would encourage all to read in its entirety:

PARADISE, Calif. — The wildfires that have laid waste to vast parts of California are presenting residents with a new danger: air so thick with smoke it ranks among the dirtiest in the world.

On Friday, residents of smog-choked Northern California woke to learn that their pollution levels now exceed those in cities in China and India that regularly rank among the worst.

In the communities closest to the Paradise fire, an apocalyptic fog cloaked the roads, evacuees wandered in white masks and officials said respiratory hospitalizations had surged. Nearly 200 miles to the south, in San Francisco, the smoke was so thick that health warnings prompted widespread school closings. Even the city’s cable cars were yanked from the streets.

And researchers warned that as large wildfires become more common — spurred by dryness linked to climate change — health risks will almost surely rise. “If this kind of air quality from wildfires doesn’t get people concerned,” said Dr. John Balmes, a pulmonologist at the University of California at San Francisco, “I don’t know what will.”

At fault, researchers say, is a confluence of two modern events: More people are moving to communities in and around wooded enclaves, pushed out by factors like the rising costs of housing and the desire to be closer to nature — just as warming temperatures are contributing to longer and more destructive wildfires.

Wood smoke contains some of the same toxic chemicals that city pollution does. While humans have long been around fire, they generally inhale it in small doses over cooking or heat fires. Humans have not, however, evolved to handle prolonged inhalation of caustic air from something like the Paradise blaze, Dr. Balmes said.

Research into the long-term health effects of large wildfires is still new. But a growing body of science shows how inhalation of minuscule particles from wood fires can nestle in the folds of lung tissue and do harm to the human immune system.

Yesterday San Francisco had the unhealthiest air of any large city on the planet:


I do have some well advertised good news here. A front with its associated westerly winds should sweep most of the smoke out of the area and dampen northern California such that health and fire concerns will be alleviated starting Wednesday:

Rain looks like it will be light, but any moisture will be welcome at this point. We’ll keep tabs on the situation, of course, during Thanksgiving week:  

As a reminder, though, the casualties out of Paradise continue to go up. Think about that the next time you fill up your car with gasoline: 


Here is some other weather and climate news from Sunday:

(As usual, this will be a fluid post in which more information gets added during the day as it crosses my radar, crediting all who have put it on-line. Items will be archived on this site for posterity.)


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The Climate Guy

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