A special air quality statement issued for most of the southern half of British Columbia, including the Okanagan, remains in effect on Sunday as smoke from U.S. wildfires socks in the valley.
A smoky skies bulletin, first issued by B.C.’s ministry of environment on Sept. 8 for the Okanagan, says the most widespread impacts of the smoke from wildfires raging in the northwestern U.S., will occur on Sunday.
“Today the smoke is pushing northwards, and we are already seeing increased effects this morning and this afternoon, and into the evening,” said Trina Orchard, air quality meteorologist with the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.
The air quality in most of the southern half of B.C. is off the charts as of Sunday morning, rated at a 10+, which is considered a “very high health risk.”
High concentrations of smoke particles have pushed the air quality health index (AQHI) from a 3-4 on Saturday in the South and Central Okanagan, or a moderate risk, to a 10+, or high risk, on Sunday.
The air quality in the North Okanagan was at 5, or moderate health risk, on Sunday morning, but the clearer air in the Vernon area isn’t expected to last long.
Extreme smoke in #Penticton Sunday morning with the current air quality health index off the charts at 10 + in the South Okanagan. This rating is considered a “very high health risk.” A special air quality statement is in effect for the entire #OkanaganValley @GlobalOkanagan pic.twitter.com/n4wHjeuolF
— Shelby Thom (@Shelby_Thom) September 13, 2020
The air quality is expected to deteriorate to 10+ by Sunday afternoon and into the evening.
There may be some reprieve from the thick smoke by Tuesday, Orchard said, but it will depend on weather systems rolling in.
“Later in the day Monday and into Tuesday we may see some improvement, but that will depend on what happens with these ridges and the incoming low-pressure system,” Orchard said on Sunday.
“We could get a complete clear sky as that low-pressure system moves in, bringing some, hopefully, precipitation, which could help clear the smoke, but it is hard to say.”
Exposure to air pollution can be most worrisome for people with pre-existing health conditions, respiratory infections such as COVID-19, older adults, pregnant women and infants and children.
“It is a very high concentration of smoke moving at ground level today, so the advice would be to stop or reduce any activity if breathing becomes uncomfortable. If you feel unwell, stay indoors where possible if you find there is an improvement in air quality, Orchard said.
The BC Lung Association is urging people with pre-existing lung and heart conditions to avoid outdoor strenuous activity and stay indoors as much as possible.
“We want to make sure that whenever they stay indoors, that their indoor air quality is also good, and if they have portable air cleaners, to turn it on, or turn on air conditioning units in re-circulate mode,” said Dr. Menn Biagtan, a spokesperson for the BC Lung Association.
To sign up for the B.C. government’s air quality alert subscription service, click here.
For more information about wildfire smoke exposure and air quality, click here.
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