The North Carolina Division of Air Quality has issued a "CODE RED" for much of the WBTV area today. That means pollutants – minute particles rising up in the smoke from wildfires back to the west of Charlotte – will continue to drift across the region today creating conditions unhealthy for most people, not just those with respiratory ailments.
As surface winds went calm overnight, smoke drifting our way settled right over the Charlotte metro area and as the sun came up this morning, a thick haze greeted us all. As for the remainder of today, very similar conditions are in place, with a ridge of high pressure building in from the west resulting in predominantly a northwesterly flow across the region. This will result in smoke blowing southeasterly across the foothills and Piedmont most of the day.
Currently, the fires near Lake Lure and the South Mountain State Park – the ones closest to Charlotte - are producing abundant smoke, while other fires farther west seem to be producing less smoke. It's with this in mind, Code Orange particle pollution concentrations are predicted for the Asheville region and the remainder of southwestern NC today, with the Hickory and Charlotte regions in a Code Red forecast due to thicker smoke expected to continue to be produced and blow south-southeasterly.
The outlook going forward does not call for much – if any – improvement through Friday, as the region will remain under the control of weak high pressure. Expect that fires will remain ongoing through the period with similar impacts expected across our region.
At this point, it's estimated that 45,000 acres are burning across western North Carolina. In real terms, that's about the size of Gastonia and Shelby COMBINED, or twice the size of Manhattan. Unfortunately, most of these wildfires are still not contained, despite the effort of firefighters from 40 states.
The primary goal is – obviously – to extinguish the fires, but at some point, investigators will want to know how they started. The fires in Burke and Rutherford Counties began October 24th, a time when there was absolutely no lighting in the area, so "natural causes" are likely being ruled out at this time.
However they started, it's no wonder the fires spread as quickly as they did, as much of the burn area is suffering from extreme to severe drought conditions, setting up a tinder-dry environment simply looking for ignition.
- Meteorologist Al Conklin