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By Zach Butler, Meteorologist Posted 11 months ago August 4, 2023

Wildfire Smoke Update from Canada to the United States

Wildfires are still burning throughout Canada and transporting smoke into the United States, causing air quality issues. On top of this, wildfires are growing in size and number throughout the Western US. Let’s go over where the wildfires are located, where and why they are transporting smoke, and the upcoming fire and smoke transport forecast. 

Where are the Wildfires?

Canada is still experiencing wildfires throughout the country in what is truly an unprecedented wildfire season. Recently, there have been more storm systems bringing rain, but not nearly enough to put out the massive flames. Additionally, some of these storm systems are causing more wildfires to start via lightning. 

The US wildfire season is getting underway as fuels dry out and many fires start from dry thunderstorms. The largest of the wildfires are located in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), which has seen a drier and warmer summer compared to the normal.

Where is the Smoke Transport?

The wildfires throughout Canada are large enough to send smoke into the mid-to-upper parts of the atmosphere. This is because strong winds at the surface are associated with many of these fires, causing pyrocumulus clouds to develop. 

Pyrocumulus clouds form if there is enough moisture and atmospheric instability over the fire's location. These pyrocumulus clouds (mainly in Canada) are sending smoke into the atmosphere, where winds can then transport it long distances. 

The smoke in Canada is staying in the country but is also being transported into the US. This has included many areas of the Upper Midwest and the Northeast. A look at the satellite view from Tuesday, August 1st shows the widespread smoke transport. Another view from the surface in New Hampshire via the Mount Washington webcam shows the smoke degrading visibility and air quality on Thursday, August 3rd. 

The wildfires in the PNW and other areas of the Western US are not as large as in Canada but are still causing localized smoke and air quality issues. Here is a look at the wildfires in the PNW on Monday, July 31st. 

Why Smoke is Transporting into the US?

The reason Canadian wildfire smoke is transporting into these areas is because the winds in the mid-to-upper parts of the atmosphere are pushing the smoke into the US. These winds have been a major theme of the summer, causing frequent smoke transport throughout much of the Midwest and Northeast. 

The ECMWF (Euro) model mid-level analysis shows the weather pattern that has brought the smoke into the US (images above). This pattern has been consistent for much of the summer. 

There are weak mid-to-upper levels winds in the PNW, which are preventing smoke from being transported long distances. The wildfires in other Western US states are relatively small and do not have enough energy and favorable atmospheric conditions (wind and instability) to transport smoke either. The Western US wildfires have degraded air quality for localized and remote areas. This could change in the coming weeks though... 

Smoke Transport Forecast

Wildfires will continue to send smoke into the atmosphere and degrade air quality in areas of Canada and many US states. The locations of bad air quality will be localized due to narrow areas of smoke in the atmosphere. 

The OpenSnow smoke map and air quality maps are highlighting where smoke will affect your summer adventures and will continue to be a vital resource to keep an eye on the sky this summer. Smoke will continue to be an issue this upcoming weekend with the forecast below for Saturday, August 5th. 

An additional factor with smoke transport in the Western US is the surge of the summer Monsoon moisture. This has brought beneficial rain to many areas, but also some thunderstorms via lightning have reportedly caused the ignition of wildfires as well. 

The Monsoon moisture will likely dry out in the next couple of weeks, where dry and warm conditions are expected to return to much of the Western US. This could lead to fire weather conditions with hot, dry, and windy conditions by next week around August 11th. 

Climate Prediction Center (CPC) 8-14 day temperature (left) and precipitation (right) outlook from Friday, August 11th - Thursday, August 17th.

Zach Butler

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About The Author

Zach Butler

Meteorologist

Zach Butler is currently a PhD student in Water Resources Science at Oregon State University. He just finished his master's in Applied Meteorology at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. Originally from Maryland, he has grown up hiking and skiing up and down the East Coast. When not doing coursework, he enjoys cooking and exploring the pacific northwest on his bike.

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