BLOG: Smoke questions answered - | WBTV Charlotte

BLOG: Smoke questions answered

Photo taken from WBTV's Towercam Wednesday afternoon. Photo taken from WBTV's Towercam Wednesday afternoon.

We have been dealing with forest fire smoke for a few days now. This is anything but typical for the Charlotte area. I’ve never seen this situation. 

I was talking to Eric Thomas and Al Conklin this afternoon and they can only remember it happening a time or two. So if this seems out of the ordinary to you, you’re not alone!

Today, I did a Facebook live session about it, so I thought I would pass along some of the most asked questions and their answers.

Is this like ozone in the summer?

No. Ozone is a chemical. When we have low level pollutants and the hot summer sun beats down on them, they can turn into low level ozone – a poison for us. It tends to peak in the afternoons and then drop off a little in the evenings and be lowest in the mornings.

What we’re dealing with now is very fine particles from forest fire smoke. We’re talking about 2.5 micrometers in diameter. 
You can’t even see them. You can see the smoke/ haze in the air but you can’t see the individual particles. They are a problem because they are so tiny that they can travel very far through your respiratory system and right to your lungs.

Prolonged exposure obviously isn’t a good thing. Short term exposure can irritate your eyes and nose. It can make you cough – much like any irritant would.

When is the peak time?

The peak isn’t necessarily in the afternoon. It is more dependent upon wind direction, not temperature. In our case, the wind has been out of the west today – pulling the smoke right into the WBTV viewing area. Later tonight, the wind should shift and begin to move out of the north. That should reduce our air quality concentrations just a bit tonight and tomorrow. 

When will this end?

That’s a good question! The short answer is that we have potential problems until the forest fires are completely out. When will that happen? Likely when we begin to get some decent rain. Sadly, that just isn’t in the forecast. There is a small chance on Saturday, as a cold front passes through but that is only a 20% chance. Furthermore, the front will cause the winds to pick up Saturday afternoon and Sunday.

That would temporarily mix out the high smoke concentrations but could also fan the flames of the current fires. That would obviously make things worse in the long run. 

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