May 25, 2023 - Climate

It's time to prep for summer weather extremes, Seattle

Smoke makes the Seattle skyline hazy, with the Space Needle in the center.

Smoke from wildfires fills the air around the Space Needle on Sept. 16, 2020. Photo: Chona Kasinger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Now is the time to prepare for another summer of extreme heat, wildfires and smoke in Seattle and Washington state.

Why it matters: Scientists say climate change is contributing to more extreme heat events, a longer wildfire season, and, at times, unprecedented levels of smoke in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.

  • The number of large fires in the western U.S. doubled between 1984 and 2015, and Washington experienced its top three most destructive fire seasons ever in the last eight years: 2015, 2020 and 2021.
  • These hotter and drier conditions also set the stage for more human-ignited wildfires. For much of the West, projections show that an average annual one-degree-Celsius rise in temperature may increase the area burned in a typical year by as much as 600 percent.

Driving the news: With a developing El Niño predicted during the summer and into the fall, and other signals to forecasters showing an above-average likelihood of drier and hotter conditions in the Pacific Northwest, experts say it's fine to hope for the best but wise to prepare for the worst.

Be smart: While it may be uncommon for wildfires to enter Seattle's city limits, the Bolt Creek Fire last year proved that any fires in our region have the potential to make air quality plummet in the city for weeks and even months.

  • In October 2022, Seattle's air quality ranked as the worst in the world, according to IQAir's comparison of city air quality and pollution levels.
  • Wildfire smoke contains fine particulate matter that is especially harmful because it reaches deep into the lungs, according to studies.
  • Already this year, 100 wildfires in Canada have prompted air quality alerts across the U.S.

Pro tips: Pay attention to air quality conditions, sign up for alerts, and commit to staying indoors and keeping your home's air as clean as possible when advised, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • If you have central air, run it with the fresh-air intake closed and a clean filter. Portable ACs are another option that allows you to keep your windows closed when it's smoky. In both scenarios, an air cleaner with a HEPA filter is advised.
  • If you are on a tight budget, research shows that a DIY box-fan filter can dramatically reduce particulate matter, according to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

Plus: Creating an evacuation plan is another new necessity for those living in high-risk areas, writes Axios' Meira Gebel.

  • To prepare an evacuation plan, consider where the closest shelter would be (a public library, convention center, school, etc.), your evacuation route, and a family communication plan.
  • According to the Red Cross, a basic go-kit should consist of water, non-perishable food, flashlights, batteries, a first-aid kit, medications, cell phone chargers, personal hygiene items, and copies of personal documents. Don't forget sturdy leashes and food for pets!

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