Air quality improves as rain drives away smoke

People living on southern Vancouver Island are breathing easier as smoke from the U.S. wildfires begins to dissipate and air quality improves.

“The air quality on southern Vancouver Island has gotten noticeably better,”Armel Castellan, warning preparedness meteorologist with Environmental Canada, said Friday afternoon.

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“The air quality sensors are registering substantially better air quality even since ­yesterday, and certainly since the weekend, when things were at their maximum.”

Canada Post issued a yellow service alert to the Greater Victoria area Friday, saying it would do its best to deliver the mail, but there could be delays due to poor air quality in central and southern B.C.

During most of the day Friday, the air quality index for the Island was at a low risk level of 2, and it’s expected to remain at low risk today. Rain began Friday afternoon and showers coming up the coast were expected to get rid of most of the smoke on southern and eastern Vancouver Island, said Castellan.

The dense smoke hung around for so long because of the explosive growth in wildfires in eastern Washington on Sept. 8, the meteorologist said.

“It grew to 100,000 hectares over the span of 12 hours,” said Castellan. “As a result, we had outflow winds and 24 hours of poor air quality. By Tuesday night, things were starting to get better and Wednesday and Thursday was not too bad, but we knew the pattern was shifting to a southerly flow.”

That flow lasted for seven or eight days and covered the whole Salish Sea in smoke, said Castellan.

Rain is helpful in cleaning the atmosphere, but a combination of wind and rain is needed to really get rid of the smoke, said Castellan. “Once that happens, we’re going to be in the clear for good.”

So what’s in the forecast?

Saturday through Tuesday will be relatively dry, and any smoke left this weekend will be local, said Castellan.

Starting late Tuesday, the rain will begin.

“A steep low pressure system in the Gulf of Alaska is going to give us a progressive atmospheric river or a pineapple express,” he said. “It’s moving. It will not inundate one spot on the coast. But it’s very juicy and will bring a lot of rain in and really tip the scale from summer to fall.”

If not for the smoke, summer weather would have continued into the first weeks of September, said Castellan.

“It was extraordinarily warm to start and, obviously, the smoke cooled us off by about 10 degrees.”

The good news is that everyone can emerge from their previously shuttered homes and enjoy cleaner air outside.

“It should be a nice switch for us,” said Castellan.

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