Is the smoke from western forest fires affecting our weather?

This year there have been many fires on the west coast of the U.S. and Canada.

Most of these fires are in remote regions and were started by lightning strikes. This smoke has drifted over our region. It will not have much of an effect on our temperature or precipitation. However, official weather reports include observations on sky conditions and visibility.

The smoke can cause the sky to appear hazy, even if the smoke is high above the ground. When the smoke is thick it can cause brilliant red sunsets and sunrises. When light beams interact with particles suspended in air, the light can be scattered or absorbed.

The amount of light that is being scattered is a function of the number of particles and the size of the particle relative to the wavelength of the light falling on the particle. Small particles, like those smoke is composed of, scatter blue light. So, as the sun sets and its rays pass through the smoke plume, all the blue lights are scattered out of the path between the setting sun and your eyes, leaving just the red and orange colors.

This results in the sun having a bright red color when it is low on the horizon. Recently, the smoke above us has been thick enough that the red sun disappeared from view before it set below the horizon.

If the winds are right, the smoke can be transported down to the ground. This can cause a reduction in air quality. The small particles that make up the smoke can cause respiratory problems, particularly for children, the elderly and people with asthma.

Category: Meteorology, Phenomena

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