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8/18/15: Portland Metro Area Smoke Update

What about Portland?

Portland is seeing some wildfire smoke this afternoon, with numerous air quality monitors in the city showing moderate conditions on DEQ’s Air Quality Index. The smoke is present because the east wind increased fairly recently today and is now bringing smoke from the numerous wildfires to the east in both Washington and Oregon.  The smoke may initially increase throughout this afternoon and early evening, but overnight the smoky conditions should improve as the east winds are expected to decrease tonight.  Some lingering smoke will likely settle overnight, but conditions should further improve tomorrow as the winds are expected to shift from east to west, pushing the smoke out of the Portland metro area.
So, why wasn’t Portland included in the air pollution advisory DEQ issued earlier in the day Thursday? DEQ typically issues air pollution advisories when conditions are deemed “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” Similar advisories occur when conditions are “unhealthy”, “very unhealthy” or “hazardous.” These are the conditions represented as orange, red or purple dots on the air quality index map. When this happens, air quality is generally poor and likely to impact the general population, and especially people with pre-existing respiratory problems, including asthma.
But that does not mean that some people will not feel adverse impacts from smoke at more moderate levels. Some people are more sensitive to smoke than others. Geography also plays a role, as some people live and work in areas where smoke is more likely to accumulate.
It’s also important to remember that while the state’s air quality monitoring network gives a good snapshot of statewide conditions, many people live many miles away from the nearest monitor. Air quality can vary greatly from one area to the next, especially in communities that are in close proximity to wildfires. 
So what does this all mean? It means that while the AQI is an important tool, an even better gauge of the quality of air you are breathing is to look outside and see what is happening with smoke. If visibility is less than about five miles, that is considered unhealthy for sensitive populations. If you can see less than one mile, that is considered very unhealthy. The good news for Portlanders? As noted above, meteorologists predict westerly winds as early as tomorrow, which should help push out some of the smoke.