Sunday, August 27, 2017

Summary of a Dry Summer in Star Valley

After a very moist winter and spring, it has been a very dry summer for Star Valley and surrounding areas.  With virtually no chance of precipitation by the end of the month, the following are amounts observed since the 1st of July around Star Valley for the July/August period.

Rainfall July 1-August 27

Thayne 1 SE                        1.09
Smoot  5 S                           1.05
Star Valley Ranch                  .84
Etna ES                                  .82
Alpine                                    .76
Thayne ES                             .74
Double L                               .72
Cokeville                               .55
Afton Swift Creek                 .35

The normal amount of precipitation that falls at the Bedford 3SE climatological station for the July/August period is 2.85 inches

Following is a map of the amount of precipitation that has occurred in Western Wyoming and surroundings areas in the past 60 days in inches.

Total precipitation  60 days to August 27 2017

An above normal precipitation was mainly east of the continental divide in Wyoming



Percent of normal precipitation 60 days ending August 27 2017


The preliminary outlook for September is more of the same warm and dry




Friday, August 25, 2017

Intense Hurricane Harvey Moving Onshore in Texas This Evening

Late this afternoon Hurricane Harvey has continued to intensity to a Category 3 storm as it moves toward the Texas Coast.

Following are both infrared and visible satellite animation of Harvey's circulation as of 4pm mst this afternoon.



Following is the latest Bulletin from the National Hurricane Center on Harvey

BULLETIN
Hurricane Harvey Advisory Number  22
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL       AL092017
400 PM CDT Fri Aug 25 2017

...MAJOR HURRICANE HARVEY BEARING DOWN ON THE TEXAS COAST...
...CATASTROPHIC FLOODING EXPECTED DUE TO HEAVY RAINFALL AND STORM
SURGE...


SUMMARY OF 400 PM CDT...2100 UTC...INFORMATION
----------------------------------------------
LOCATION...27.5N 96.5W
ABOUT 60 MI...95 KM ESE OF CORPUS CHRISTI TEXAS
ABOUT 60 MI...100 KM S OF PORT OCONNOR TEXAS
MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS...125 MPH...205 KM/H
PRESENT MOVEMENT...NW OR 325 DEGREES AT 10 MPH...17 KM/H
MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE...941 MB...27.79 INCHES


WATCHES AND WARNINGS
--------------------
CHANGES WITH THIS ADVISORY:

The Tropical Storm Warning has been discontinued south of Port
Mansfield, Texas.

The Storm Surge Watch has been discontinued south of Port
Mansfield, Texas.

The government of Mexico has discontinued the Tropical Storm Watch
north of Boca de Catan.

SUMMARY OF WATCHES AND WARNINGS IN EFFECT:

A Storm Surge Warning is in effect for...
* Port Mansfield to High Island Texas

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for...
* Port Mansfield to Sargent Texas

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for...
* North of Sargent to High Island Texas

A Storm Surge Warning means there is a danger of life-threatening
inundation from rising water moving inland from the coastline in the
indicated locations. For a depiction of areas at risk, please see
the National Weather Service Storm Surge Watch/Warning Graphic,
available at hurricanes.gov.  This is a life-threatening situation.

A Hurricane Warning means that hurricane conditions are expected
somewhere within the warning area, in this case within the next few
hours. Preparations to protect life and property should already be
complete.

Interests in southwestern Louisiana should continue to monitor the
progress of this system.

For storm information specific to your area, including possible
inland watches and warnings, please monitor products issued by your
local National Weather Service forecast office.


DISCUSSION AND 48-HOUR OUTLOOK
------------------------------
At 400 PM CDT (2100 UTC), the eye of Hurricane Harvey was located
by aircraft reconnaissance aircraft and NOAA Doppler radar near
latitude 27.5 North, longitude 96.5 West. Harvey is moving toward
the northwest near 10 mph (17 km/h), but its forward speed is
expected to decrease significantly during the next couple of days.
On the forecast track, Harvey will make landfall on the middle Texas
coast tonight or early Saturday. Harvey is then likely to meander
near or just inland of the middle Texas coast through the weekend.

Data from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate
that maximum sustained winds have increased to near 125 mph
(205 km/h) with higher gusts.  Harvey is a category 3 hurricane on
the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.  Some additional
strengthening is possible before Harvey makes landfall overnight.
Weakening is then expected over the weekend while the center moves
inland over Texas.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 35 miles (55 km) from the
center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 140
miles (220 km).  A station at Aransas Pass, Texas, recently
reported a sustained wind 56 mph and a gust to 71 mph.

The minimum central pressure based on aircraft reconnaissance data
is 941 mb (27.79 inches).


HAZARDS AFFECTING LAND
----------------------
RAINFALL:  Harvey is expected to produce total rain accumulations of
15 to 30 inches and isolated maximum amounts of 40 inches over the
middle and upper Texas coast through next Wednesday. During the same
time period Harvey is expected to produce total rain accumulations
of 5 to 15 inches in far south Texas and the Texas Hill Country over
through southwest and central Louisiana. Rainfall of this magnitude
will cause catastrophic and life-threatening flooding.

STORM SURGE:  The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the
tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by
rising waters moving inland from the shoreline.  The water is
expected to reach the following heights above ground if the peak
surge occurs at the time of high tide...

N Entrance Padre Island Natl Seashore to Sargent...6 to 12 ft
Sargent to Jamaica Beach...5 to 8 ft
Port Mansfield to N Entrance Padre Island Natl Seashore...3 to 5 ft
Jamaica Beach to High Island...2 to 4 ft
Mouth of the Rio Grande to Port Mansfield...1 to 3 ft
High Island to Morgan City...1 to 3 ft

The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast near and to
the northeast of the landfall location, where the surge will be
accompanied by large and destructive waves.  Surge-related flooding
depends on the relative timing of the surge and the tidal cycle, and
can vary greatly over short distances.  For information specific to
your area, please see products issued by your local National Weather
Service forecast office.

WIND:  Tropical storm conditions are occurring in portions of
the hurricane and tropical storm warning areas, and hurricane
conditions are expected to begin within the hurricane warning area
in the next few hours.  Tropical storm conditions are likely to
persist along portions of the coast through at least Sunday.

SURF:  Swells generated by Harvey are affecting the Texas,
Louisiana, and northeast Mexico coasts.  These swells are likely to
cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions. Please
consult products from your local weather office.

TORNADOES:  A few tornadoes are possible through Saturday near the
middle and upper Texas coast into far southwestern Louisiana.


NEXT ADVISORY
-------------
Next intermediate advisory at 700 PM CDT.
Next complete advisory at 1000 PM CDT.

Hurricane Harvey Heading to Texas Coast

Dangerous Hurricane Harvey will reach the Texas Coast by Saturday.  Following are two high resolution GOES-16 satellite video this morning  followed by the latest information from the Hurricane Forecast Center on Harvey.

The above is an infrared video  while the next video is the visible imagery this morning.



Here is the most recent information on Harvey from the National Hurricane Center

BULLETIN
Hurricane Harvey Advisory Number  21
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL       AL092017
1000 AM CDT Fri Aug 25 2017

...OUTER RAINBAND FROM HARVEY SWIPING THE LOWER AND MIDDLE TEXAS
COASTS...
...CATASTROPHIC FLOODING EXPECTED ACROSS PORTIONS OF SOUTHERN AND
SOUTHEASTERN TEXAS...


SUMMARY OF 1000 AM CDT...1500 UTC...INFORMATION
-----------------------------------------------
LOCATION...26.7N 96.0W
ABOUT 115 MI...185 KM SE OF CORPUS CHRISTI TEXAS
ABOUT 120 MI...195 KM SSE OF PORT OCONNOR TEXAS
MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS...110 MPH...175 KM/H
PRESENT MOVEMENT...NW OR 315 DEGREES AT 10 MPH...17 KM/H
MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE...947 MB...27.97 INCHES


WATCHES AND WARNINGS
--------------------
CHANGES WITH THIS ADVISORY:

The Hurricane Watch south of Port Mansfield Texas to the Mouth of
the Rio Grande has been discontinued.

SUMMARY OF WATCHES AND WARNINGS IN EFFECT:

A Storm Surge Warning is in effect for...
* Port Mansfield to High Island Texas

A Storm Surge Watch is in effect for...
* South of Port Mansfield Texas to the Mouth of the Rio Grande

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for...
* Port Mansfield to Sargent Texas

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for...
* North of Sargent to High Island Texas
* South of Port Mansfield Texas to the Mouth of the Rio Grande

A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for...
* South of the Mouth of the Rio Grande to Boca de Catan Mexico

A Storm Surge Warning means there is a danger of life-threatening
inundation from rising water moving inland from the coastline in the
indicated locations. For a depiction of areas at risk, please see
the National Weather Service Storm Surge Watch/Warning Graphic,
available at hurricanes.gov.  This is a life-threatening situation.
Persons located within these areas should take all necessary actions
to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for
other dangerous conditions.  Promptly follow evacuation and other
instructions from local officials.

A Hurricane Warning means that hurricane conditions are expected
somewhere within the warning area, in this case within the next 12
to 24 hours. Preparations to protect life and property should be
rushed to completion.

A Storm Surge Watch means there is a possibility of life-
threatening inundation from rising water moving inland from the
coastline in the indicated locations.

Interests in southwestern Louisiana should continue to monitor the
progress of this system.

For storm information specific to your area in the United
States, including possible inland watches and warnings, please
monitor products issued by your local National Weather Service
forecast office. For storm information specific to your area outside
the United States, please monitor products issued by your national
meteorological service.


DISCUSSION AND 48-HOUR OUTLOOK
------------------------------
At 1000 AM CDT (1500 UTC), the eye of Hurricane Harvey was located
by an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft and NOAA Doppler
radar near latitude 26.7 North, longitude 96.0 West. Harvey is
moving toward the northwest near 10 mph (17 km/h), but its forward
speed is expected to decrease significantly during the next couple
of days. On the forecast track, Harvey will make landfall on the
middle Texas coast tonight or early Saturday. Harvey is then likely
to meander near or just inland of the middle Texas coast through the
weekend.

Maximum sustained winds are near 110 mph (175 km/h) with higher
gusts. Some strengthening is possible, and Harvey is forecast to
become a major hurricane before it reaches the middle Texas coast.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 35 miles (55 km) from the
center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 140
miles (220 km).  A buoy located about 40 miles east of South Padre
Island recently reported sustained winds of 42 mph (68 km/h) and a
gust to 54 mph (86 km/h).

The minimum central pressure based on data from the Air Force plane
is 947 mb (27.97 inches).


HAZARDS AFFECTING LAND
----------------------
RAINFALL:  Harvey is expected to produce total rain accumulations
of 15 to 25 inches and isolated maximum amounts of 35 inches over
the middle and upper Texas coast through next Wednesday.  During
the same time period Harvey is expected to produce total rain
accumulations of 5 to 15 inches in far south Texas and the Texas
Hill Country over through southwest and central Louisiana.  Rainfall
of this magnitude will cause catastrophic and life-threatening
flooding.

STORM SURGE:  The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the
tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by
rising waters moving inland from the shoreline.  The water is
expected to reach the following heights above ground if the peak
surge occurs at the time of high tide...

N Entrance Padre Island Natl Seashore to Sargent...6 to 12 ft
Sargent to Jamaica Beach...5 to 8 ft
Port Mansfield to N Entrance Padre Island Natl Seashore...5 to 7 ft
Jamaica Beach to High Island...2 to 4 ft
Mouth of the Rio Grande to Port Mansfield...2 to 4 ft
High Island to Morgan City...1 to 3 ft

The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast near and to
the northeast of the landfall location, where the surge will be
accompanied by large and destructive waves.  Surge-related flooding
depends on the relative timing of the surge and the tidal cycle, and
can vary greatly over short distances.  For information specific to
your area, please see products issued by your local National Weather
Service forecast office.

WIND:  All last-minute preparations should be rushed to completion
since tropical storm conditions are likely just beginning in
portions of the hurricane and tropical storm warning areas.
Hurricane conditions are likely to begin within the hurricane
warning area later today or tonight.  Tropical storm conditions are
likely to persist along portions of the coast through at least
Sunday.

SURF:  Swells generated by Harvey are affecting the Texas,
Louisiana, and northeast Mexico coasts.  These swells are likely to
cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions. Please
consult products from your local weather office.

TORNADOES:  A few tornadoes are possible later today through
Saturday near the middle and upper Texas coast.


NEXT ADVISORY
-------------
Next intermediate advisory at 100 PM CDT.
Next complete advisory at 400 PM CDT.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Star Valley Forecast issued Tuesday Evening

Due to computer problems that will not be resolved until this coming weekend,  the local forecast follows:

Forecast for Star Valley issued Tuesday Evening

Tonight
Areas of smoke before 3am. Partly cloudy, with a low around 47. Light south southeast wind.
Wednesday
Isolated showers before 11am, then isolated showers and thunderstorms after noon. Some of the storms could produce gusty winds. Partly sunny, with a high near 76. Calm wind becoming south southwest around 6 mph in the afternoon. Chance of precipitation is 20%.
Wednesday Night
Isolated showers and thunderstorms before midnight. Some of the storms could produce gusty winds. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 46. Southwest wind around 5 mph becoming calm in the evening. Chance of precipitation is 20%.
Thursday
Isolated showers and thunderstorms after noon. Some of the storms could produce gusty winds. Mostly sunny, with a high near 76. Light and variable wind becoming west 6 to 11 mph in the morning. Chance of precipitation is 20%.
Thursday Night
Partly cloudy, with a low around 46. West wind 5 to 10 mph becoming light and variable after midnight.
Friday
A 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after noon. Mostly sunny, with a high near 77. Southeast wind around 5 mph becoming calm.
Friday Night
Partly cloudy, with a low around 46. West wind around 6 mph becoming calm after midnight.
Saturday
Sunny, with a high near 81.
Saturday Night
Mostly clear, with a low around 47.
Sunday
Sunny, with a high near 83.
Sunday Night
Mostly clear, with a low around 46.
Monday
Sunny, with a high near 83.
Monday Night
Mostly clear, with a low around 46.
Tuesday
Sunny, with a high near 82.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipse Day On

What clouds are around this morning should have either dissipated or moved south of the Eclipse path by Eclipse time.

Forecast  Cloud Cover at Noon Monday Eclipse Day
 

Satellite photo taken at 0800 MDT Monday August 21 2017


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Eclipse Cloud Forecast Day1

It is just 24 hours prior to the passing of the Eclipse across Southern Idaho and Wyoming.  It now seems assured that the path of the Eclipse will be only marginally affected by high clouds as a weak upper trough moves across and mainly north of Wyoming.

The latest cloud forecast from the NGM model shows as has been the case for the past couple of days a rather thin band of high cloudiness translating southeast across southeast Idaho and Wyoming during the morning,  mostly just prior to the eclipse.

NAM model of  the percentage of forecast cloud cover at noon Monday August 21 2017.

The 300 MB(30,000ft  MSL) forecast for noon shows the very weak upper trough passing across the area with the mostly high band of  clouds moving with it.

NAM 300 MB forecast for noon Monday August 21 2017
Examining the forecast model sounding for around Star Valley at noon Monday, indicates a continued  very dry air mass, marginally supportive of upper level clouds.

Vertical  forecast sounding vicinity Star Valley noon August 21 2017(green dewpoint, red temperature)



 The only other issue may be some smoke from remaining fire activity across the mountains of Idaho, however this should be lessened from a week ago as most of the fires  have been diminished by showers and fire fighting efforts.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Friday, August 18, 2017

Day 3 Eclipse Cloud Forecast

All the models that were run this Friday morning suggest that there is still a concern that clouds could be a factor in eclipse viewing on Monday.  At this time it appears that the clouds will be primarily higher clouds and likely not completely block the sun as the Eclipse tracks across Southern Idaho and Wyoming around mid day.

The first cloud forecast for noon Monday is from the GFS  that was run this morning.

Forecast of percentage sky cover for noon Monday from the GFS Model

Fortunately skill levels in forecasting cloud cover 3 days in advance is unreliable, as the band of clouds across Southeastern Idaho and Northwest Wyoming could be an issue for ideal eclipse viewing.

The GEFS forecast which is an ensemble of 20 different model solutions each starting with slightly different initial conditions, is more optimistic. Some cloudiness would be present,but not as solid as the GFS.


GEFS forecast of percentage cloud cover for Noon Monday

A third model the NAM is similar to the GFS with a band of clouds across Southeastern Idaho and Northwest Wyoming.
NAM forecast of percentage cloud cover at Noon Monday 8/21/17

The next chart is the GFS model forecast relative humidity at the 300 MB level, or around 30.000 feet.  The band of  high humidity coincides with the cloud cover forecast at that time.

Forecast of 300 MB humidity at Noon Monday.


The next chart is the forecast relative humidity at 700 MB, or about 10,000 above sea level.  This suggest that moisture for clouds will be above 700 MB and most likely at the cirrus level.  

All these forecast suggest a concern for at least high level cirrus and possibly some clouds at mid levels. Thus there remains a concern for at least some clouds to deal with during the Eclipse, but some three days ahead, forecasting cloud cover is still very difficult



Thursday, August 17, 2017

Day 4 Eclipse Cloud Forecast

It is now just 4 days from the Eclipse. The Numerical models should be getting a better handle on the amount of clouds that will possibly interfere with Monday's Eclipse show.

Looking at the GFS model which is the primary source of longer range forecast, there is still some concern that clouds will be an issue.

Percent of cloud coverage forecast from the GFS model for noon Monday August 21 1917

Another model to evaluate is the GEFS(ensemble GFS) which is a composite solution of running the GFS model given slightly differing initial conditions. Similar to a consensus opinion.  This GEFS solution for mid day Monday provides a much more positive solution for the likelihood of interfering cloud cover.


GEFS forecast for percentage of cloud cover for noon Monday August 21 2017.

Again the forecasting of cloud cover in many ways is more difficult than precipitation 4 days ahead.  However both forecast are encouraging that cloud cover will be limited on Monday over Wyoming and Southern Idaho.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Cloud Cover Forecast for the Eclipse Path on Monday August 21 2017

As of mid day Wednesday, it is just 5 days before the much anticipated Total Solar Eclipse will be tracking across Wyoming.  While forecasting cloud cover is risky at best 5 days in advance most places,  the numerical models are now within range to begin having some skill to do so.

Climatology would suggest that the morning hours(time of the eclipse event) would have the best chance of minimal clouds.  Typically cumulus develop over and near the mountains by late morning, leading to the possibility of thunderstorms during the afternoon hours.

The GFS model which is the primary forecast model for the United States produces a new forecast every 6 hours which extends out for 384 hours.  Thus it produces a new cloud cover forecast for the time of the eclipse every 6 hours.

Below is the forecast cloud cover from the GFS model generated at noon Wednesday for mid day on Monday over the U.S.

Cloud Cover Total  (%) valid at Noon Monday August 21 2017


This forecast suggests that the area from Oregon into Idaho  has a good chance of favorable eclipse viewing conditions, with some concern for cloud cover over much of Wyoming.

Again this is still 5 days out, and forecasting cloud cover is little better than a crap shoot at that range.  
Below is the model forecast from 24 hours earlier for the eclipse time of noon Monday.



Cloud Cover Total  (%) Forecast valid at Noon Monday August 21 2017

Similarities exist from forecast to forecast,  In the case of Wyoming much of the eclipse path would be seeing minimal cloud cover along the path, but greater concern just to the south.

Will continue to monitor new model forecasts for cloud cover along the Eclipse path, particularly Wyoming and southeast Idaho.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Late Summer Snake River Reservoir Levels Remain High

Water levels on the  Upper Snake River System remains well above normal as summer  enters the final weeks.  The benefit of last winters large snow pack has kept the reservoirs near full.

Palisades Reservoir which reached 100% on July 1st  and on August 13th remains at 98%.

  

In comparison the Palisades content this year is almost triple 2016 for the middle of August and about 50% above normal levels.

Jackson Reservoir also is still well above 90% of capacity
 and well above what would be normal levels for mid-August

The entire storage  system of the upper Snake River System is 84%


This amount is about double that which is the average for mid-August.



Friday, August 11, 2017

Tutorial on Using Weather Cameras option on Star Valley Weather Web Site




One of the important features of Starvalleyweather.com is the Weather Camera link on the site.  Along with providing some great views of Wyoming and surrounding areas, the cams provide a view of the current weather conditions. This becomes particularly important as we enter the winter weather and associated hazardous driving season.  The cam site teams with the great highway reporting of the Wyoming Department of Transportation,  enabling travelers to monitor ongoing winter weather and road conditions.

The Weather Cameras  is a link to the site http://www.camviewing.com/mosaic/ that was developed by John Hales in 2008.   Quality control of the site is a high priority.  Keeping only those cams on the site  that are active is important.  Cams are usually reliable, however  when one is not available it is dropped from the web site until it comes back online.

At any given time there could be as many as 140 web cams displayed.  The criteria used to determine the display of a camera are: 

1. Quality of the image.

2. Frequency of updates. (ideally every minute) 

3. Proximity to Star Valley WY

4. View of the sky.

5. Reliability

Here are the cams available  at this time.  Cams will be added or removed dependent on their availability.


Cams available in Star Valley area


Cams available in Wyoming area


Cams available in the CONUS

In addition to the Mosaic of all the cams, there are other valuable features on the site. 


1. Left click on the image will provide a  larger current image

2.The cursor placed  at the top of each cam on the mosaic will open up the control menu for that particular cam. 

   a. Left click on the minutes option(30 60 120 180 300) will build a loop of that length in time.

   b. Left click on the info (i) button and it will bring up a google map centered on the webcam location. Additionally it will display the latest  nearby weather observation and identifying the location of the observation.

    c. There is also a radar option which when turned on will display the current composite reflectivity product from the NWS 
   
    d. The satellite option will display the current infrared imagery.

3. Clicking on the + will open up a looping option.  At least 3 days are available in the archive for all cams.     Selecting the date/time and looping length in minutes will rebuild a loop.  There are two options when building a loop:
  
     a. The Load Loop option will rebuild a requested  time period  and  display it.  

     b. A much more powerful option is the Create Video.  This will build the requested time period and then display the Download mp4 Video which will then produce a url link  that can be copied/sent or saved as a video file. While all cams have at least the most recent 3 days archived, additional days can be added to a particular cam upon request. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Star Valley Rainfall Report August 9 2017

Some of the best rainfall since June fell late Wednesday across Star Valley, particularly the lower valley.  Following are some of the rainfall reports.

Alpine                   .51
Etna ES                . 49
Double L              . 47
Alpine  Airport      .46
Etna 3N                 .43
Thayne ES            .28
Fairview                .27
Thayne  1.5 SE     .17
Star Valley Ranch .16
Smoot 5S               .06
Afton                     .05
Bedford 2S            .02


Small hail was observed in the heavier thundershowers around Etna

The strongest reported wind gust occurred at Alpine Airport of  30mph as the storms rolled through.

However brief strong winds also occurred later in the evening at Star Valley Ranch in the wake of the storms with a gust to 33 mph around 9pm.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Forest Fire Smoke

Interesting article about smoke from fires, such as what Star Valley has been experiencing recently.

Where There's Fire, There's Smoke

August 4, 2017, 8:06 PM
Above: A group trying to rescue animals waits at a road block as smoke rises from a catastrophic forest fire near Fort McMurray, Alberta on May 6, 2016. Canadian police led convoys of cars through the evacuated city in order to get people to safety far to the south. Image credit: Cole Burston/AFP/Getty Images.
Massive smoke plumes invaded the Pacific Northwest in early August 2017, and more smoke from wildfires may be a problem into early autumn across parts of the U.S. and Canadian West. In this guest post, wildfire expert and author Stephen Pyne (Arizona State University) looks at the history of our relationship with wildfire smoke.

Landscape fire occurs where land, air, and plants meet. Most of the focus is on flames, and where air and flame interact, on how winds push a flaming front like a tattered sail. But look at any image of a serious fire, and the largest feature is its plume. Fires are three-dimensional phenomena, more like a thunderstorm than a flood. The zone of the fire can extend deeply into the atmosphere. The effects of the fire can project, through its smoke, far from its the perimeter. And recently that far-ranging smoke has become of global interest for its effects on public health and climate change.
Dramatic smoke plume from an experimental fire at Bor Island, Siberia, 1993.
Figure 1. Dramatic smoke plume from an experimental fire at Bor Island, Siberia, 1993. Helicopters flew around and into the plume to collect sample emissions. Image credit: J.G. Goldammer
Big smokes aren't new. America's frontier of settlement left the sky murky with seasonal smokes, some vast and dense. Several times in the late 18th century New England's sky went dark at noon as immense smoke palls passed overhead. Those Dark Days foreshadowed others that occasionally smothered innumerable basins that pooled smoke along with cold air, including the Great Lakes. Entire fire seasons passed under haze, occasionally thickened into a dry fog of particulates.
During the 1864 fires in the Northwest, the Oregonian ran an article that speculated that "much of the sickness which prevails among us at present is attributed to the heated state of the atmosphere and the immense volumes of smoke created by the vast fires." A few years later it proclaimed: "We read about Egyptian darkness, but it is smoke, Josephine smoke - smoke in the morning, at noon and a night. Meet a neighbor, it is smoke; parting from one, it is smoke. Hogs running around are smoked through and through - live, running bacon... so you see we live in the days of smoke. It is smoke, smoke, smoke!"
Smoke from 1910 fires in northwest US
Figure 2. Smoke from a devastating series of forest fires that raged across the northwest U.S. in the summer of 1910. Image credit:  From Fred G. Plummer, Forest Fires. USDS Forest Service, Bulletin 117 (1912).
Survey parties often found it difficult to map from mountain tops because of the magnitude of burning. As late as 1950, the Chinchaga fire in northern Alberta spilled a slow-moving lake of smoke across the United States.
Then it disappeared, or at least the worst of it did. Settlement no longer churned up forests and incinerated slash, agriculture shrank its burning of field and fallow. Where it continued, as in the Northwest, public health and environmental activism found common cause to shut down slash fires and burning to stimulate grass seed production in the valleys. Society converted from the open burning of wood and grass to the internal combustion of fossil fuels. Emissions belched out, sometimes to the detriment of local towns, but most of it was invisible compared to woodsmoke, whose range of particulates coincides with the wavelength of visible light. (There were exceptions such as the Los Angeles basin, where trapped emissions could lead to smog.) In general, the skies cleared, and generations grew up with the expectation that blue sky year round was the norm.
In recent years concern over smoke has marched in lockstep with alarm over the return of large landscape fires. The most notorious outbreaks involve the euphemistically termed "haze" that descends over Southeast Asia from massive burning in Borneo and Sumatra, mostly from tropical peat (in recent years such fires are among the largest sources of carbon dioxide released globally). The pall has shut down airports (like Singapore's) and forced millions to breathe foul air and don surgical face masks. That concern has merged with studies of indoor air pollution from cooking fires fueled by wood and dung; with regional smoke from agricultural burning, such as in the Punjab region of India; and with medical investigations into the health hazards to firefighters from prolonged smoke inhalation.
Smoke, everyone concludes, is bad for you--even second-hand smoke downwind from the source of fires. Thanks to satellite imagery, news media routinely track smoke plumes. Especially where smoke is likely to be trapped in valleys from long-lingering fires, authorities broadcast public health warnings. All that burning, moreover, contributes to greenhouse gases, which fold back into conditions to support more fire.
Smoke from Indonesia firest, 9/24/2015
Figure 3. This MODIS image from NASA’s Terra satellite shows smoke from numerous forest fires across northern Sumatra, Indonesia, blowing westward across the island on September 24, 2015. The record-strong 2014-16 El NiƱo brought parched conditions to southeast Asia. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.
A strong case has emerged to issue public alerts about bad air from smoke and to bring it under regulation. Lungs don't distinguish among small particulates from cooking fires, trash fires, pastoral burning, coal-fired power plants, and lightning-kindled wildfires; neither does the atmosphere. Smoke is a hazard to near-term public health through occasional smoke-ins and to the long-term health of civilization through global warming.
But there is a paradox: many places need more fire, not less. Fire has been on Earth since the first plants colonized continents (fossil charcoal exists back 420 million years). We cannot abolish fire and smoke except in intensely managed built environments like cities where we can choose non-combustible materials (or face consequences like the Grenfell Tower fire in London). Removing fire can be ecologically disruptive, and devising alternatives can be hazardous (think of how many non-flammable materials turn out to be carcinogenic). The same is true for smoke. More and more research is pointing to the ecological role of smoke--the right kind of smoke at the right time. Smoke stimulates flowering in a variety of plants (including pineapple); it fumigates forests, helping control some moths and insects; it blocks solar heating in valleys that keep stream waters cool for migrating fish. As with fire, the more we look for benign smoke effects, the more we find.
Pyrocumulus in Oregon, 7/31/2014
Figure 4. This photo, taken from an Oregon Air National Guard F-15C on the evening of July 31, 2014, show a developing pyrocumulus cloud above the Oregon Gulch fire, a part of the Beaver Complex fire. Image credit: James Haseltine, via NASA Earth Observatory.
In truth, America's wildland agencies have sought to restore “good fire” for the past 50 years, and many wildland fire managers are haunted by the specter of regulations that would prevent attempts to introduce prescribed fire and to manage wildfires. Regulatory agencies like EPA need to define wildland fire differently from industrial combustion; they need to grant it some room, not just geographic space, but decision space. Smoke there will be, but we have some control over how much and when. Wildfires can produce huge volumes of smoke that can overload an airshed; prescribed fires can burn the same amount of land in smaller patches with better-vented and more easily diluted plumes.
That fire officers must manage smoke has been clear for decades, and they have done so. Smoke forecasts are as much a staple of planning as are winds. Smoke is an object of research, a theme of policy, and an obsession of practitioners. But it is harder to confine smoke than flames; it propagates much higher and farther. As a new era of settlement reclaims rural lands for exurbs, the prospects for smoke from good (as well as bad) fires to interact in dangerous ways with society increase. (Smoke drifting across roads has become a major issue.)
Even natural fires left to burn in remote places are likely to creep and sweep across the countryside for months, leaving a quasi-toxic legacy of smoke. There is nothing like being smoked in for weeks to arouse the public and perhaps lead to a public health crisis. Today, just as it did long ago, smoke can have a reach well beyond fire's grasp.
Smoke billows from wildfire at Stevenson Ranch, CA, 10/22/2007
Figure 5. Smoke billows into the sky near a highway on October 22, 2007, at Stevenson Ranch, California. Devastating wildfires during the autumn of 2007 burned nearly a million across Southern California, killing 14 people and destroying thousands of structures. Air quality reached unhealthy levels across the San Diego area, prompting a city attorney to suggest evacuating the city. Image credit: J. Emilio Flores/Getty Images.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Smoky Saturday Afternoon in Afton Wyoming

While there was smoke all day across much of Western Wyoming. Thanks to the Powerline Fire near American Falls Idaho, very thick smoke engulfed the Upper Star Valley, including Afton late Saturday afternoon.

Following is a GOES-16 satellite image Saturday afternoon showing the Hot Spots of ongoing Fires of which the Powerline was the largest and hottest.



Also note the Fire to the southeast vicinity of the Hams Fork Valley north of Kemmerer.

The smoke plum from both fires is well defined in the late afternoon GOES-16 Satellite photo.



Particularly noticeable was the band of very heavy smoke crossing the WY/ID border vicinity Afton.

The video from the West Hills Cam located about 4 miles west of Afton provides a view of the thick smoke that spread across the valley late in the afternoon.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Where is the Smoke Coming From?

Smoke rolled across Star Valley this afternoon. Also there was a report of a brush fire near Crow Creek.  However the smoke experienced today originated from fires well west of our area.
Afton Cam midday



Afton Cam late afternoon

 The GOES 16 satellite  vividly displayed the large area of smoke tracking eastward across Southern Idaho into Western Wyoming.

GOES satellite photo taken later Thursday afternoon



Another of the GOES 16 sensors is able to pick up hot spots associated with ongoing fires.  The one taken late this afternoon provides a dramatic depiction of the active fires today.




The bright red returns are where the hottest fires are located.  The most obvious big fire is the Cinder Butte Fire in Eastern Oregon and the primary source of Star Valleys smoke today.  This fire in 3 days has grown to 56,000 acres with no containment.  Another large fire is the Lava Flow fire west of Idaho Falls.  While it has  grown to  22,000 acres in 3 days it appears to be a secondary source of our smoke and the satellite hot spot is not nearly as well defined as the one in Oregon and those to the north in Western Montana and Northern Idaho.

The very moist Winter and Spring in the Western States is just a memory and the past two months have proven to be quite dry in the Northwest states.



The above chart shows most of the area where the current fires are located has had 2 dry, very warm months.  All that growth that resulted from the wet winter are now providing fuels for fires as they have rapidly dried.

The outlook for August is not encouraging.  It is forecast to be warmer and drier than normal over much of the Northwestern U.S.






Therefore it appears that smoke will be an issue in the skies around Western Wyoming for some time.