EVERETT — The brownish-white haze has smothered the region for more than a week, blotting from view mountains, waterfront and entire cities.
The other day, when Elizabeth Elliott crossed the U.S. 2 trestle near Lake Stevens, Everett was a blur.
William Maxwell typically can take in Mount Baker 60 miles from his Camano Island home where he often enjoys peering through a telescope at the natural beauty around him and the night sky. When the gauzy smoke is at its thickest these days, he can’t even see Warm Beach four miles away.
“It has lingered so long,” he said.
The sky reminds him of a time many years ago when he lived in Mexico City, which the United Nations in 1992 declared the most-polluted city on the planet.
The haze over much of Western Washington has seemed like a stubborn squatter settled in behind dead-bolted doors. For more than a week, it has awaited commuters on their morning drive, followed them home at the end of the day and stuck around for the evening stroll. It has crossed the border from British Columbia where, by one recent count, at least 130 wildfires have burned more than 1.4 million acres.
Like many people who make the Puget Sound region home, Elliott readily accepts the rainy gray that dominates winter and spring for the promise there will be blue summer skies. The haze spoils plans. She and her husband, who can experience breathing issues when air quality is bad, have delayed backyard projects and hikes.
“We both feel like, ‘Ugh, this is not why we live here,’” she said.
Deteriorating air quality has been a concern for people with respiratory ailments, such as asthma. Many sensors in recent days have been recording marginal to poor air quality.
There just might be some relief on the horizon, beginning as early as Friday, according to the National Weather Service in Seattle.
“The wind will switch from northerly to southerly, which will blow the smoke out of here,” said Gary Schneider, a weather service meteorologist.
There’s even a “decent chance” of showers by Sunday, which would end a record-setting dry stretch, Schneider said. The old record was 51 days. By Sunday, it could be 56 days without measurable rain of a hundredth of an inch.
Also keeping track of the smokey conditions created by wildfires has been a blog maintained by county, state, and federal agencies as well as Indian tribes. In a recent post, wasmoke.blogspot.com described the high pressure system over much of Western Washington as “a slowpoke.”
“By the time it vacates our airspace this weekend, it would have calmly resided over us for about 10 days,” the post said. “It not only brought us a heat wave but also the flow conditions that helped transport copious amounts of BC wildfire smoke here. Some cheek, overstaying its welcome!”
Closer to home, progress is being made on a wildfire outside of Darrington. At its peak, more than 350 people were involved in fighting what has been dubbed the Suiattle Fire. It started July 30 and is burning in steep rough terrain.
In Stanwood, a regional burn ban has postponed a firefighting drill scheduled for Friday on an empty home near 7021 Pioneer Highway.
Maxwell, like hundreds of thousands of others in Snohomish and Island counties, hopes the smoke disperses soon.
These August days are supposed to be savored, to be tucked in the memory bank when winter hits.
“This is kind of our prime window,” Maxwell said.
For now, he doesn’t bother to peer through his telescope at night.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.