British Columbia

'Smoke season' comes early to B.C. as wildfires blaze in Alberta

Look, up in the sky! Is it a cloud? Is it wildfire smoke? Turns out, it’s a little bit of everything.

Grey skies over Metro Vancouver a result of humid air down low and smoke high up in atmosphere: meteorologist

The Vancouver skyline is pictured through haze on May 30, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Look, up in the sky! Is it a cloud? Is it wildfire smoke? Turns out, it's a little bit of everything.

The grey skies that settled over Metro Vancouver in the past few days come from a mixture of a very humid air mass and smoke drifting in from the fires in northern Alberta, according to Matt MacDonald, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

"We've had this persistent northeasterly flow throughout the week, and that's carrying the smoke down across the Interior and all the way to the coast. But luckily, it's remained a little further up in the atmosphere … so air quality has been quite good over the past few days," he told CBC.

By Thursday afternoon, the clouds had burned off as the temperature rose, but MacDonald said people living in the Lower Mainland can expect to see more wildfire haze through to the end of the week.

"As we head into the weekend, a shift to a more westerly flow is going to set up and that'll help blow that wildfire smoke back into Alberta and away from B.C.," he said.

The forecast from FireSmoke Canada shows the smoke from Alberta drifting as far east as Montreal and Boston by Saturday:

 

It can be difficult for the average person to distinguish between fog or mist and wildfire haze, but MacDonald said the key difference to look for is colour — wildfire smoke tends to add a yellow tint to the sky.

The Vancouver area is only getting the tail end of the smoke right now.

In Edmonton on Thursday morning, the Air Quality Health Index hit "high risk" levels as the sun rose as a bright red ball in the sky.

Bracing for 'smoke season'

That sort of sunrise has become a familiar sight in B.C. over the past few summers, as record-breaking wildfires have torn through the province.

And the warming climate, which has brought hotter and drier weather to British Columbia in recent years, means the problem isn't going away.

"The last two summers are an example of what we're going to see more of in the coming summers. Now, a lot of people are starting to talk about the smoke season becoming the norm," MacDonald said.

Right now, the long-term forecast for B.C. calls for another warmer than normal summer, coming on the heels of a very dry winter and an early start to wildfire season.

What the coming months look like will largely depend on how much rain falls in June, according to MacDonald.

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