Rain later this week may bring relief from wildfire smoke
An air quality alert remains in effect for the Summit County area
An air quality alert is in effect through Tuesday morning, Aug. 10, as out-of-state wildfire smoke continues to create a haze throughout the region, but thunderstorms later in the week might push the wildfire smoke out of Summit County.
Ayesha Wilkinson, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder, explained that Summit County is currently under a weather pattern that would normally make for sunny skies. Instead, the wildfire smoke is taking center stage. But later in the week, starting Thursday night, Aug. 12, and into Friday, Aug. 13, precipitation is expected to roll in.
“We could get some (precipitation) Friday into the weekend — so possible thunderstorms throughout the weekend,” Wilkinson said.
Rainfall totals are subject to change, but Wilkinson said Friday would likely bring more isolated showers, while Saturday and Sunday are the area’s best bets for substantial rain.
Temperatures are forecast to be slightly above normal, with high temperatures in Dillon between 77 and 80 degrees through the workweek. According to Dillon Weather Station records, the normal high temperature in August in the area is about 74 degrees. Wilkinson noted that smoke could inhibit these higher-daytime temperature predictions.
“Say, for example, we forecast a high for your area around 81 degrees,” Wilkinson said, “If we get a lot of smoke, that will inhibit a lot of that heating in the day, and you might get a high of 75 instead of 81. So it might be a little cooler due to all that smoke. And then at night, if (smoke) is still around, if you have a forecasted low of, for example, 45, it could be 50 because that smoke is still there, and it’s keeping the surface pretty warm at night.”
Wilkinson said that the current air quality alert was issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and disseminated by the National Weather Service. She noted that the smoke settling in Summit County is coming from wildfires burning in California.
According to the national Incident Information System, there are more than 30 fires currently burning in California. The largest is the Dixie Fire that is burning nearly 500,000 acres, or about 765 square miles, and it is only 21% contained.
The air quality alert was issued for most of western and central Colorado and stated that heavy smoke will affect the area on Monday, Aug. 9, and Tuesday. The alert included public health recommendations, which include remaining indoors if the smoke becomes too thick, in particular for young children, older adults and people with heart disease or respiratory illnesses.
“Consider limiting outdoor activity when moderate to heavy smoke is present. Consider relocating temporarily if smoke is present indoors and is making you ill,” the alert stated.
Smoke has reached unhealthy levels if visibility is less than 5 miles, the alert noted. For reference, if you are in downtown Dillon or Frisco, you should be able to see Buffalo Mountain. If you are in Breckenridge you should be able to see the mountain peaks above the ski area.
According to air quality readings from PurpleAir.com, a website that collects data from local sensors on a 10-minute average, Summit County’s air quality was showing readings between 93 and 115 on Monday. Air quality levels between 51 and 100 are considered acceptable, but exposure for 24 hours may pose moderate health concerns. Readings between 101 and 150 may cause health effects for sensitive groups, but the general public is not likely to be affected.
Monday’s readings were an improvement from Sunday, Aug. 8, when readings were between 130 and 160.
Wilkinson said the smoke could start to clear Thursday night if rain comes in as expected. In the meantime, or if smoke lingers into next week, Dr. Christine Ebert-Santos, a Frisco-based pediatrician, recommended that people with babies and those lung conditions limit their time outdoors when air quality is poor. She simplified the air quality recommendations, stating that when the mountains are hazy, people should be aware that it may not be healthy to be outdoors for a long period of time.
“We have to balance the need for activity and fresh air and vitamin D, so probably for healthy people they’re not going to be out as much as they usually would,” Ebert-Santos said. “That being said, I wouldn’t go on a six-hour hike.”
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