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Hazardous air quality remains an issue in B.C. as wildfire smoke hangs on

Monday, August 2nd 2021, 8:28 am - Hundreds of wildfires in B.C. and a stagnant atmospheric pattern are contributing to hazardous air quality.

Poor air quality remains a major issue this week across British Columbia, with some communities expecting "very unhealthy" to "hazardous" air quality over the next few days. According to the Government of British Columbia, there are 244 wildfires burning as of Monday morning, which are largely causing the dangerous air quality conditions.

High pressure along the Pacific coast and the Prairies are working together to sandwich the low-level smoke over British Columbia. An upper-level ridge is making the situation worse by preventing the smoke from rising and diverting the jet stream.

low level smoke august 2 AM

All of these atmospheric conditions will contribute to dangerous air quality that will continue this week.

“I’ve had an intense headache for 24 hrs... smoke is in the house. Can’t avoid it. There is ashfall daily on my back deck and cars. It really got bad the last few days when you know smoke is coming into the house through the vents,” says Jaclyn Whittal, a meteorologist at The Weather Network who is currently in the Okanagan Valley.

B.C. wildfire smoke/Jaclyn Whittal Wildfire smoke blocking out the sunlight in the Okanagan Valley. (Jaclyn Whittal)

Friday brought the worst air quality on Earth to British Columbia. The usual culprits in China, India and Iran were fair in comparison to the southern Interior. Castlegar, B.C., had a daily average air quality index of 415 --marking the third worst day in the past seven years and the first time two days have exceeded 400 in the same year. Tuesday's index reading was 404.

Some of the most dangerous components in wildfire smoke are carbon monoxide and microscopic, ultrafine particles called PM 2.5, which are 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller and cause health complications when they enter the lungs or bloodstream.

“Individuals may experience symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath. Children, seniors, and those with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, are especially at risk. If your home is not air-conditioned, be sure the house doesn't get too warm when doors and windows are closed to keep out smoke,” Environment Canada states.

BC AQ Monday August 2 AM

Kevin MacKay, a meteorologist at The Weather Network, says that the Okanagan Valley is an area where conditions will be particularly dangerous over the next two days, not expected to improve until Wednesday.

“[The air quality] is now surpassing the worst air quality from last summer. This could be the worst air quality in years, if not on record for some areas across southern B.C.”

An upper-level low will approach the Pacific coast this week. This will provide more of an onshore and stronger winds aloft. This will help the situation in B.C., but will shift the majority of the smoke onto the Prairies.

Thumbnail courtesy of Jeniffer Schroeder.

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