It’s breath-taking out there, and it’s probably going to stay that way until Monday afternoon.
Wildfire smoke blowing in from northern California, Oregon and Washington is bringing high-risk, poor-quality air to B.C.’s south coast.
Environment Canada is advising children, the elderly and those with cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses to avoid strenuous outdoor activity. It’s also encouraging healthy adults to reduce or reschedule strenuous outdoor activity until the air quality improves.
On Friday, the air quality health index for Victoria, Saanich and the West Shore was 10+, which is considered very high risk.
“So it’s going to pretty much affect everybody,” Armel Castellan, warning preparedness meteorologist with Environmental Canada, said Friday. “It’s recommended that everybody take it seriously for their health and for the health of the health-care system, not to mention that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and this COVID virus is respiratory-related.”
The index assesses the health risks posed by a mixture of pollutants, including particulate matter, oxone and nitrogen dioxide. The risk to health is very high when particulate matter reaches 25 micrograms per cubic metre, Castellan said.
“And we’re at more than 100 for many locations across the south coast,” he said.
Fine particles are small enough to travel deep into the lungs and cause all sorts of health problems — from a runny nose and coughing to bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, pneumonia, heart disease and even premature death.
Greater Victoria residents woke up to an orange, apocalyptic sky on Tuesday, when a strong ridge of high pressure caused fires in Washington state to explode in growth. Winds from the east brought smoke and poor air quality to the coast for 24 hours. Air quality improved in the middle of the week, but smoky skies returned on Friday and will likely last until Monday, when a Pacific storm is expected, said Castellan.
“It’s not a very strong storm, but it’s going to affect the region for sure. It’s going to help bring temperatures down, so it will affect the wildfires, the source of the smoke. It will also bring a little bit of rain, which is going to be really nice in terms of the ecosystem as a whole. It will wash the atmosphere out a little bit.”
Tofino might see accumulations of 10 to 15 millimetres of rain, while the capital region will be in the rain shadow and might just see showers.
While midweek is expected to be drier, more rain could fall later next week, on Friday and Saturday, Castellan said.
The changing weather pattern will be helpful, said Castellan, but whether it makes a big dent in the wildfire smoke from Oregon, California and Washington remains to be seen.
“But lower temperatures and some rain is certainly better than just a straight up strong ridge, of course,” he said.
It’s possible there will be windows of better air quality as the Pacific storm comes in and the thick plume of smoke migrates east, said Castellan.
“It’s going to be bad for a little while, with glimpses of better air quality throughout the later half of the weekend. Hopefully by Monday or Tuesday afternoon, when we have this weak Pacific storm, it will help the overall air quality,” he said.