According to the Air Quality Monitoring website IQAirthe concentration of PM 2.5 in Seattle — tiny particles less than 2.5 microns in width — on Thursday afternoon was 38 times higher than the annual guideline recommended by the World Health Organization.
The cause was wildfires in the Cascade Mountains, accompanied by weeks of unusually dry and hot weather. On Sunday, Seattle broke a record for hottest day This late fall, at 88 degrees. Washington has seen precious little rain since June. 56 percent of the country in droughtaccording to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Seattle, which has the worst air quality in the world, is a “shocking statistic,” said Maddy Kristel, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle. Part of the problem, she explained, was the persistent ridges of high pressure that prevented storms from settling over Seattle.
“Those hills were really strong and didn’t allow for a difference in weather patterns,” she said. This, along with above-normal temperatures, allowed the fires to burn longer than they otherwise would have.
The city’s horrific air comes at a time when researchers are trying to understand whether bushfire smoke is worsening — and how it affects human health on the West Coast and beyond. according to study Published last month, the number of people in the United States suffer from extreme smoke day Significantly increased over the past decade.
“It goes without saying that if you live in the West, you know things have changed, and it’s getting smoky,” said Marshall Burke, a professor of Earth sciences at Stanford University and one of the study’s co-authors. “But our goal was to try to quantify.”
Between 2006 and 2010, researchers found that less than 500,000 people each year were exposed to a single day of extreme levels of PM2.5. But between 2016 and 2020, that number jumped to more than 8 million. Hotter, drier climate – accompanied by failure to plan and implement Prescribed burns That could prevent giant wildfires—causing more Americans exposed to suffocation and pungent air during the summer and fall.
Researchers know that PM2.5 is extremely harmful to human health – it can worsen the respiratory system and Cardiovascular problems, and frequent high exposure to them proven to affect Children’s cognition test scores. But, Burke said, no one really knows how short hikes from very high air pollution affect health and cognition.
Staying indoors isn’t necessarily a solution: Air quality monitoring website PurpleAir showed that even several indoor air sensors in Seattle Thursday were reporting AQIs for between 100 and 150which can be dangerous for many vulnerable groups.
When faced with terrible air quality, Burke recommends staying indoors, keeping doors and windows closed and using air purifiers or other filtration systems where possible. Those who do not have air purifiers can make what is called “Corsi Rosenthal boxesor box fans with air filters taped to them for a quick indoor air cleaning solution.
In the end, researchers are just starting to scratch the surface future climate full of fire. Poor air quality, Burke said, “affects our lives in many ways.” “We are just beginning to understand how important that is.”
An Air Quality Alert in effect in Seattle expires Friday morning. Rain is expected from Friday afternoon into Saturday, a system that the National Weather Service said should “help improve air quality even more.”
Jason Samino contributed reporting