Heat to continue through week, smoke lingers

There will be little change this week to the high-80s and low-90s temperatures felt last week, National Weather Service forecasters report, but after days of haze the blown-in smoke from raging British Columbia wildfires should clear by the weekend.

The smoke will “probably continue to be an issue” through mid-week, National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologists reported in their daily forecast discussion Monday morning. An NWS air quality alert is in place through tomorrow, Thursday, and could be extended.

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency’s (PSCAA) air quality burn ban — which was temporarily lifted Saturday — was re-instituted Tuesday morning. No campfires, charcoal BBQs, fireplaces or agricultural fires are allowed. Air quality levels moved from the “unhealthy” levels seen last week back to “moderate” Saturday, but by Tuesday, PSCAA again rated air quality in the South Sound as “unhealthy for sensitive groups” again.

On Vashon, after one week of haze that turned both the sun and moon fiery shades of red, Tuesday morning was ushered in by a still-red sun and fog. And while the sunrise proved the smoke was stubbornly lingering in the area, forecasters say the fog meant onshore breezes from the Pacific had returned.

“We have resident smoke that needs to be blown out,” NWS meteologist Ted Buehner said Friday. “We should see a gradual, slow improvement in smoke conditions. ”

According to Buehner, Western Washington’s normal onshore breeze from the Pacific Ocean that keeps Seattle summers relatively mild and the air clear was not blowing last week. It was replaced with a breeze moving in from the north over British Columbia’s flaming wilderness. It brought not only smoke, but heat that is expected to hang on well into this week.

Last Tuesday, Vashon’s normally blue summer skies turned a shade of hazy brown and orange as the smoke drifted south. The smoke continued pouring in Wednesday, bringing an all-day haze to much of the island and causing a busy afternoon for the island’s fire department.

Vashon Island Fire & Rescue Assistant Chief Bob Larsen said the department received five calls from people reporting smoke between 1:15 and 3 p.m. last Wednesday. By Thursday afternoon he said those calls had subsided due to what he hoped was people becoming educated about the phenomenon.

“It’s Canadian smoke. They haven’t given us the exchange rate on it yet,” he said laughing.

On a serious note, he said that the smoke is a general, overall smoke, not concentrated like smoke from a nearby fire would be.

“I drove out to the Tramp Harbor dock around 8:45 (last Wednesday) night and you could barely see some silhouettes and a few lights on the mainland. That was it,” he said.

But while the smoke created air quality issues — by Thursday, the state Department of Ecology and PSCAA rated air quality in the region as “unhealthy” — experts like Buehner say it kept temperatures lower than predicted highs by acting as a buffer between the ground and the sun. Thursday was predicted to be one of the hottest days in recent history with forecasters warning of temperatures over 100 for the area. Thursday’s high on Vashon was around 90 degrees, and islanders took to The Vashon Pool, Dockton Park and KVI Beach to escape the heat.

Vashon Park District Aquatics Director Scott Bonney said the pool has been averaging nearly 200 people per day in the past few weeks and swim lesson participation has been record-breaking.

“It’s been going really, really well,” he said. “We’ve been having quite a big turnout. With this warm weather, we suggest everyone stay cool at the pool.”

Islanders should get comfortable in the water as the Seattle area on Tuesday broke the record of 51 consecutive days without rainfall set in 1951. On Tuesday it had been 52 days since measurable rain fell in the area.

“There is no rain in sight,” NWS’ Buehner said. “Obviously it’s been dry since the middle of June. Heat, smoke and wildfires, that’s kind of the big deal right now.”

The record-setting summer comes after a record-setting winter that lasted well into May. There was measurable snowfall twice on Vashon — once in December and once in February — and 44 inches of rainfall in Seattle from October to April.

“People have told me that after the really soggy and cold winter we deserve this (hot weather),” Buehner said.

But the record-setting combination has thrown something of a curveball for local gardeners as fruit trees are yielding far less than in years prior. Islander Bob Norton, a retired horticulture professor and local fruit expert, said his crop of plums, apricots, pears and plums is poor due to “a bad April” during which more than 4 inches of rain fell, preventing pollinators from doing their work.

“Plums, apricots, pears and peaches are all poor this year,” Norton said. “I have mainly cherries on my property, and they didn’t get pollinated well. I have almost no crop.”

He said the current heat doesn’t seem to be having any adverse effects on the established fruit, but is “certainly not helping” either.

He said apple and strawberry crops seem to have fared better because they bloom later in April.

At the Vashon Island Fruit Club, Jerry Gehrke shared similar sentiments. Gehrke is also coordinator of the island’s Mason bee program and said many of the bees that emerged from their cocoons in early April died because it was too wet and cold to fly, eat and pollinate.

“The Asian pear crop is way, way down to nonexistent, and the plum crop is way down as compared to last year,” he said.

For Nashi Orchards co-owner Cheryl Lubbert, poor Asian pear crops spell difficulty for her business. Together with her husband, Jim Gerlach, Lubbert grows 15 different types of Asian pears in an orchard on the island’s west side. From the pears, she and Gerlach produce perry, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented pears. She said this year has been one of the more difficult ones.

“The trees are growing like mad, but the problem is the spring torrential downpours,” she said. “When we got those just horrible, horrible rainstorms … a lot of the Asian pears bloomed, but the bees couldn’t get to them to pollinate.”

She said that with so many different varieties of the crop, some have fared better than others, but the business’s Bartlett pear tree has no fruit at all.

“The later harvest varieties are doing fine. It really depends on when they bloom, whether they were impacted,” she added.

She said April’s heavy rains are helping the plants fare better in the dry summer, but “it’s been a tough year for fruit.”

Looking ahead, temperatures this week will remain in the mid to high-80s with fog most mornings, according to the NWS. Smoke should start clearing out at the end of the week.