Wildfire smoke continued to linger on the North Olympic Peninsula, and an expected rainstorm that was forecast to arrive has weakened and will not be enough to get rid of it for at least three more days.
The National Weather Service on Monday extended its smoke alert to at least noon Thursday.
The smoke may improve from the near-fog that has enveloped most of the Peninsula since Friday, but the smoke is not expected to leave the area through much of this week.
“An Air Quality Alert for smoke has been extended by the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency, Northwest Clean Air Agency, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and Southwest Clean Air Agency, and is now in effect until noon PDT Thursday,” the alert said.
“Air quality across the region is expected to remain unhealthy to very unhealthy [Monday], and may improve only slightly into the unhealthy or unhealthy for sensitive groups through mid-week.”
The air quality on most of the Peninsula has been in the hazardous category since Friday, according to the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency.
Rain that was falling Monday afternoon didn’t have an immediate impact on the pollutant counts.
Port Angeles had a pollutant count of 329 at 4 p.m. Monday — worse than Friday, Saturday or Sunday, according to the state Department of Ecology’s Air Quality Advisory scale.
That is the measurement of particles in the air under 2.5 microns in size measured in micrograms per cubic meters.
Anything over 300 is considered hazardous, which means people are advised to stay indoors as much as possible and should keep their windows and doors shut at all times.
Port Townsend also was in the hazardous level with a pollutant count of 305 at 4 p.m., while Cheeka Peak on the Makah Indian Reservation was at 363 and Neah Bay at 278, in the very unhealthy category.
Some areas in central and eastern Washington remained above 500 Monday.
Despite the hazardous smoke, local hospitals reported only a few patients coming in with respiratory problems.
“There hasn’t been any noticeable difference in our patient visits” in the emergency room or walk-in clinic at Olympic Medical Center, said Bobby Beeman, director of marketing and communications at the facility in Port Angeles.
Forks Hospital reported up to three people coming in with respiratory issues aggravated by the smoke, nurse Zack Ayears said.
Amy Yaley, public information officer for Jefferson Healthcare hospital in Port Townsend, said: “We’ve had a few patients, but nothing significant.”
National Weather Service meteorologist Mary Butwin said the agency hoped a weather system coming into the area this week would drive the smoke out. It was raining moderately hard Monday afternoon in Port Angeles.
“But it’s stalled in place and weakened to some degree,” she said.
Much of the plume is offshore, driven over the Pacific Ocean by westerly winds last week out of California, Oregon and Washington. Easterly winds are now bringing the smoke back through the Pacific Northwest.
More rain showers were forecast Monday night with a 50 percent chance of rain. Light showers are forecast throughout the week with chances of precipitation from 20 percent to 30 percent Tuesday through Thursday.
Butwin said some areas in Washington may see some detectable relief from the smoke, but it will depend on where the rain showers hit.
In the forecast, the smoke is expected to remain in the unhealthy or unhealthy for sensitive groups, the latter of which is a PM2.5 count of 100-150, according to WAQA. Unhealthy is between 151-200.
Unhealthy means people should limit their time outdoors and not engage in strenuous outdoor activities. Unhealthy for sensitive groups means people with underlying health issues should limit their time outdoors, according to the state Department of Ecology.
Butwin said the NWS will reassess the smoke situation Thursday and might extend the smoke alert a second time. NWS officials said Sunday they expected the alert to be extended past Monday.
Forks Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lissy Andros said the pandemic helped prevent a bad situation with the Forever Twilight Festival this weekend.
Because of COVID-19, the festival had already gone to a virtual format. A small outdoor tour was canceled due to the smoke.
“Everything worked out great,” Andros said. “We’re lucky we went virtual. If we had not had COVID-19, we would not have been able to do the festival at all.”
Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be reached by email at [email protected].