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With wildfires burning, when should you start to be concerned about air quality

High pressure systems can keep winds calm with the absence of a low pressure system, which prevent poor air quality from spreading.

CALIFORNIA, USA — Fires are burning throughout the Northwest, especially in drought-stricken areas.

When this happens, the biggest concerns revolve around air quality. Some of the biggest fires burning include the Bootleg Fire in Southern Oregon and the Beckwourth Complex Fire in the Plumas National Forest. The Dixie Fire burning near Paradise has led to unhealthy air, but hasn’t been a huge concern just yet.

We know winds spread fires quickly, but lack of wind also keeps the smoke in place, creating a breathing hazard. So, what’s responsible for wind and the lack thereof?

High pressure systems in place have kept temperatures rising, resulting in drought conditions. But, here’s where it gets tricky. High pressure systems can also keeps winds calm with the absence of a low pressure system. This helps in the fire fight, but it also keeps things so calm that the ash and smoke particles aren’t able to disperse.

So, while people further away might not feel it, this is where breathing becomes difficult for those in the area of the fire and firefighters.

A nice zonal flow of high and low pressure systems moving in and out would help the air quality, but also keep winds lighter. This would be an ideal situation as opposed to major ridges and troughs we often see in the summers and winters that create the extreme heat, or heavy rain/snow, and strong winds.


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California Wildfires: Difference between Dixie Fire and 2018 Camp Fire.