It doesn't smell smoky in San Francisco on Wednesday morning, just as it didn't for most of Tuesday. Yet the color of the sky turned an even more disturbing, Hades-like orange as everyone woke from their slumbers today, and it's thanks to fires that are burning very far away.
As meteorologist Daniel Swain explains, "Extremely dense [and] tall smoke plumes from numerous large wildfires, some of which have been generating nocturnal pyrocumulunimbus clouds ('fire thunderstorms'), are almost completely blocking out the sun across some portions of Northern California this morning."
Extremely dense & tall smoke plumes from numerous large wildfires, some of which have been generating nocturnal pyrocumulunimbus clouds ("fire thunderstorms"), are almost completely blocking out the sun across some portions of Northern California this morning. #CAwx #CAfire pic.twitter.com/y9evl4u0eq— Daniel Swain (@Weather_West) September 9, 2020
Sunrise was 6:47 am. pic.twitter.com/TbpwWIscnZ— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) September 9, 2020
Taken this morning, the view outside my window. No 🧢. pic.twitter.com/AYxSItF9kU— Joshua C. Harris (@joshuacharris) September 9, 2020
North winds are pushing smoke from a fire outside Medford, Oregon — about 30 miles from the California border — as well as smoke from the August Complex and Oak fires in Mendocino and the Bear Fire/North Complex fires burning from Plumas into Butte County, up into the atmosphere over the Bay Area and much of the state.
Air quality remains good to moderate in San Francisco — while SFGate reports of smokier conditions in the East Bay, and ash falling like "heavy snow' at Concord Airport.
As the National Weather Service writes on Twitter Wednesday morning, "Scientists on the Farallon Islands call us daily to share weather observations. This morning they observed the same phenomenon many across the region noticed yesterday, that is: ominously dark skies (due to a suspended smoke layer aloft) but without smelling smoke."
SF residents who were here for the week following the Camp Fire in November 2018 will remember skies similar to this but with the air much more choked with smoke, as that fire's plume made a beeline for us at lower altitudes.
The New York Times today has yet another piece about how climate change is inextricably linked to these worsening fire seasons, basically saying this is our new normal for the fall.
"In pretty much every single way, a perfect recipe for fire is just kind of written in California," says Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, speaking to the Times. "But then climate change, in a few different ways, seems to also load the dice toward more fire in the future."
On the good news side, the large fire complexes within the Bay Area that erupted last month remain at 91-percent contained (LNU Complex) and 95-percent contained (SCU Complex), with the CZU Complex now at 83-percent contained. The past two windy nights have created challenges but no major disasters, and the Weather Service says the winds are about half what they were yesterday and dying out throughout the day.
Meanwhile, the raging Creek Fire near Yosemite has already surpassed the CZU Complex in size as it nears 153,000 acres, and at this speed it is poised to join the other two fire complexes in the top five largest fires in state history.