OUR COMPLEX, BEAUTIFUL WORLD – Forest fires in Canada created smoke filling the region’s sky for days last week. A natural disaster, and a human one, too, but oh so beautiful was Saturday’s sunset over Fidalgo Island. – Photo courtesy of Christopher Tuohy
Tuesday marked the longest number of consecutive days on record that Seattle has been without rain since 1951. While La Conner encountered a light shower July 20, it was not considered measurable precipitation. Extreme dry heat is affecting most of Western Washington, but the smoky haze from the wildfires in British Columbia and the Chuckanut Mountains, has saved La Conner from the high temperatures seen in other communities. That haze comes at a price: Last week the Skagit County Public Health Department issued an air quality and smoke advisory. It warned that sensitive persons, such as those with asthma, should limit their time outside. “Smoke has reduced the heat from what was predicted by a few degrees, but the air conditions from wildfires have made it more difficult to breathe,” Joanne Lynn, Environmental Health Division Manager for the Health Department, said. Lynn also noted that La Conner has been relieved of some of the heat and poor air quality because it is on the coast. La Conner Town Administrator John Doyle said the town did not take any additional precautions for last week’s heat. It was not exceptionally hotter, despite the emergency services broadcasted heat warnings, Doyle said. The Washington’s Air Monitoring Network, managed by the Washington Department of Ecology, reported good air quality on August 8 at 10 a.m. for Mount Vernon and Anacortes. This is an improvement from last week, when air quality was moderate. Skagit Regional Health Director of Communications Kari Ranten said that urgent care clinics and pediatrics clinic saw an uptick in respiratory and asthma concerns from the smoke and haze in the air. There were children arriving with headaches, fatigue and cardiovascular issues, Ranten wrote in an email. The health department was not able to gather countywide data on trends for heat-related illnesses. La Conner Medical Center’s bookkeeper said there had been a few respiratory cases last week. She was unsure if they were related to the haze, and hadn’t noticed any increase in heat-related illnesses this year. Smoke is predicted to decrease throughout the coming week. The Washington State Department of Health recorded spikes in heat related illness hospitalization in 2006 and 2009, years of extreme heat between May and September. Extreme heat cases are forecast to occur more often due to our changing climate. The heat this summer has been one of many stresses for the local agriculture industry, according to Don McMoran, county director for the WSU Agriculture Skagit Extension. While the heat wasn’t expected, he said farmers are used to dealing with uncertainties. “Any time we go above 80 degrees in Skagit County is abnormal,” McMoran said. “There has been no measurable rain since May, which is very unusual.” Farmers have had to supplement their irrigation daily, a trend that will become a constant, McMoran said. This is from a combination of Skagit County’s agriculture shifting from small dairy farms to niche berry and vegetable production, which requires more water use, and the increasing heat, he said.
A 2015 Northwest Vulner-ability Assessment released by the United States Department of Agriculture Northwest Climate Hub, reports anticipated climate-induced changes for Western Washington will include a continuing increase in wildfires, increased air temperature with decreased humidity and reduced water availability for agronomic, natural and urban systems during the summer dry season. While some crops, such as grains, are going to benefit from the heat in August, crops like potatoes and berries are needing more water to reach maturity and decrease the stress on next year’s plantings, McMoran said. “Farmers are doing their best for supplemental irrigation,” McMoran said. “But this part of the country is not set up for it.” Air quality can change by the hour. Air quality reports for specific regions in Washington are at nwcleanairwa.gov/air-quality-center and at fortress.wa.gov/ecy/enviwa.