The health effects of wildfire smoke are expected to become drastically worse in the coming decades, especially for the Pacific Northwest region and parts of Northern California, according to a new study.
Due to planetary warming and worsening drought conditions, more frequent and severe wildfires are expected across the northwest corner of the United States, particularly during the late summer months of August and September. Using computer-based models, researchers found that by the end of the century, air pollution levels could be three times higher than they are now ,and the majority of the air during peak wildfire season will be unhealthy to breathe.
Even if actions are taken to prevent temperatures from increasing further, air pollutants from these wildfires would still rise to 1.5 times their current amount by the middle of the century. Although much work has been put into maintaining air quality standards in California, these efforts could be upended by increasingly intense wildfires in the coming decades.
The aerosols produced during wildfires can also travel across state – and even continental – boundaries, where they can have a days-long effect on the climate. And, volatile compounds in the smoke can be absorbed by crops, such as wine grapes, leaving them with a repulsive flavor known as “smoke taint”.
California is not the only state plagued by year-round wildfires. A fire broke out over the weekend near Boulder, Colorado, but was able to be contained despite windy conditions. Dry, windy conditions over the 2022 New Year weekend also caused a destructive wildfire near Denver, Colorado as well.