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West Coast Fires Are Creating Their Own Microclimate In The Atmosphere, According To Experts

By Secret Los Angeles September 11, 2020

On Wednesday, September 9, cities across California woke up to dark red and orange skies, here’s why.

Many Californians woke up to a surreal view on Wednesday. An otherwordly orangey-red glow covered the skies in which the Sun should’ve shone brightly. All across the West Coast, people shared haunting images of the dark skies and city lights still shining well into the day. So what caused this stunning phenomenon? It was the massive amounts of smoke and ash in the air that have generated its own weather, according to experts.

The smoke rising from great wildfires like the Bear Fire one is so heavy it is generating its own weather according to Craig Shoemaker, a meteorologist with Sacramento’s NWS. The heavy smoke rose 40,000 feet in the atmosphere where the air is frigid. “We have a huge cloud of ash and ice,” he told the NY Times, adding that the plume resembled thunderclouds. Fires are essentially creating their own weather.”Without the smoke, it would be a clear day,” he added. “This is all generated from the fires.”

Bay Area Air Quality’s meteorologist, Jarett Claiborne, explained ash from fires in northern California and the Sierra Nevada into the Bay Area dragged in by the strong winds, blocked out blue light, only letting orange-red light through. “These smoke particles scatter blue light & only allow yellow-orange-red light to reach the surface, causing skies to look orange. If smoke becomes too thick in a certain area, most of the light will be scattered & absorbed before reaching the surface, which may cause dark skies,” he said.

The height at which the smoke gathers also affects the color of the sky to the National Weather Service. “As the winds weaken aloft, gravity will take over as the primary vertical transport of the smoke. Suspended smoke will descend closer to the surface and could lead to darker skies and worsening air quality today,” said the agency to the L.A. Times.

The darker the sky was, however, the poorer the air quality became. That’s why in areas like San Francisco, where the smoke was higher up in the atmosphere, the air quality was moderate, while in Oregon, in areas where the skies turned dark red,  it was extremely dangerous to head outdoors due to the poor air quality.

“If the smell of smoke is present or visible, it is important that Bay Area residents protect their health by avoiding exposure. If possible, stay inside with windows and doors closed until smoke levels subside,” the Bay Area AQMD said in a statement.

You may have noticed the skies have turned grey since Wednesday. That’s due to water in the air, higher up in the atmosphere, according to the Bay AQMD. The vapor mixed in with the smoke is causing light to scatter through creating the grey skies.

Meanwhile, the skies continue to change colors, air quality is expected to stay at a moderate level with  Spare the Air alerts remaining active in the Bay area until Friday, September 11.

See also: Here’s How You Can Help Those Affected By The Recent Wildfires.

[Featured image: @pedrobalaphotography, Instagram]