Experts recommend that you stay indoors and keep doors and windows closed. If you have one, run an air conditioner that recirculates indoor air and has a clean filter. Air purifiers can also help. You can make a DIY air filter out of a box fan, an air filter and duct tape (just be careful with it). Avoid strenuous physical activity, especially outdoors. People with lung conditions, such as asthma, as well as the elderly and children should take extra precautions.
What are your questions about the smoky air? We’ll do our best to get answers and will add them below.
How can I check the air quality in my area?
If you live within the area covered by the South Coast Air Quality Management District — comprised of most of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties and all of Orange County — you can use the AQMD’s air quality map. On Friday morning, areas near the Bobcat fire showed hazardous levels of pollution.
The website Purple Air also has a map that covers areas beyond the AQMD’s jurisdiction. Weather apps for smartphones have air quality readings, too.
Does being by the beach help our air quality any during this time?
This question comes from Angel La Canfora in Torrance. Unfortunately, living by the beach doesn’t offer any special protections from wildfire smoke, said Romain Lacombe of Plume Labs, which builds global maps of air quality levels for AccuWeather.
Tyler Knowlton of Plume Labs added: “There’s also the distance from busy streets that could help, as well as a lack of tall buildings making corridors that can trap pollution. However, in wildfire circumstances, the situation is so radical and the plume of smoke so big, the normal gains from local winds and proximity to other sources of pollution are virtually obliterated.”
Air quality readings bear that out. On Friday afternoon, there wasn’t much difference between Torrance and downtown Los Angeles, for example.
What is the weather phenomenon trapping the smoke over the Bay Area, and when will it get better?
Brian Garcia, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the San Francisco Bay Area, said the smoke is essentially trapping itself. Here’s how he explained it.
We’re all familiar with the onshore winds, or sea breezes, that tend to pick up in the afternoons in San Francisco (and in Southern California for that matter). That generally happens because inland areas are warmed by the sun, causing warm air to rise and creating low pressure. The air over the ocean typically has higher pressure, so that air rushes to the lower pressure areas inland. Sea breeze.
But smoke from wildfires has drifted over the Bay Area and is blocking the sun, preventing inland areas from heating up, and disrupting the normal pattern of onshore winds. So the air close to the ground where we breathe is not being mixed or moved around as much as it normally would be.
The other way for air to mix and move around is for a storm to act like a “broom and sweep the whole thing clean,” Garcia said.
As for when things might get better, Garcia is hoping that a storm moving toward the Pacific Northwest will come far enough south on Sunday to push some smoky air out of the Bay Area. If that doesn’t happen, it’ll be at least a week until another weather system is forecast to move into the area. The Bay Area could be in for some uncomfortably warm and smoky days.
Does air quality get better at night?
This question comes from Dan Sucher in Highland Park. And the answer is: Not really. Garcia said that in conditions like we have now, air quality can actually worsen at night. There tends to be less wind at night, and that allows pollutants, such as smoke, to settle closer to the ground.
How long is this terrible air quality going to last? Is there any relief on the horizon?
This question comes from a reader in Pasadena. We’re probably stuck with these conditions at least through the weekend,
Philip Fine, deputy executive officer of the AQMD, told The Times’ Hayley Smith.
“Throughout Southern California, everybody is experiencing this,” Fine said. “It looks like it’s overcast, but a lot of that is smoke from the Northern California and Oregon wildfires. They have created a plume up and down the West Coast that’s over a thousand miles wide.
“I’ve never seen anything that widespread and bad,” Fine added. And as for folks near the Bobcat fire, like our reader in Pasadena, the smoke from that blaze is making things even worse.
What can I do about ash?
The AQMD recommends the following:
- Don’t clean up ash and soot if you have heart or lung problems.
- Don’t let ash get on your skin.
- Don’t use leaf blowers to clear ash. Use a damp cloth or a light spray of water.
- Direct any ashy water to ground areas and away from runoff systems.
- If you have ash in your home, use a vacuum with HEPA filters. Sweep gently if using a broom.
- Wash your car and any toys or outdoor furniture.
- Clean ash off your pets.