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Smoky skies caused by distant wildfires impacting Central Coast air quality

Smoky Sky
A gray, smoky sky is seen above Nipomo on the morning of Sept. 21, 2023. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SANTA MARIA, Calif. – For a second straight day on Thursday, gray, smoky skies hovered over much of the Central Coast.

Wildfires burning in Northern California and Oregon, combined with meteorological conditions, are pushing smoke hundreds of miles south across most of California, including the Central Coast.

"There is a fire that's burning in Northern California and the Oregon border," said Meghan Field, San Luis Obispo Air Pollution Control District Public Information Officer and Air Quality Specialist. The meteorological conditions and the wind is just pushing that smoke down here into our area, so we're seeing kind of a mix of smoke and marine layer right now."

The conditions have caused both the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District and the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District to warn residents about the potential hazards associated with smoky skies.

"As we head into this evening, we are going to see an uptick in the air quality levels," said Field. "We'll be up there in the unhealthy for sensitive groups range, which is orange on the AQI (Air Quality Index) scale, into through the morning, and we are expecting some varying levels of smoke in the air through the weekend. "We are seeing high levels of particulate matter, particularly, PM2.5, which is very, very small, which is concerning PM 2.5 is a very concerning pollutant because it can bypass your nose into your lungs, and so we do want people to limit their exposure if they're smelling smoke, so limit it by going indoors, closing windows. If you are especially sensitive, really try and limit your exposure outside."

The Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District and Santa Barbara County Public Health Department issued an Air Quality Alert on Monday and willl remain in effect until conditions improve.

"We have seen elevated levels all throughout Santa Barbara County. The highest levels we've seen have been in Santa Maria and Lompoc," said Lyz Bantilan, Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District Public Information Officer. "People should be especially aware of the situation and paying attention, but we really encourage everyone to keep an eye on those numbers because they can change very quickly and it could become unhealthy for everyone."

Northern Santa Barbara County is being impacted the most by the smoke with measurements for air quality indicating unhealthy conditions for sensitive groups, which are classified as people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children and teenagers.

"Smoke can cause symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, nausea, headaches," said Bantlian. "If anyone experiences those symptoms, and thinks it is due to the smoke, they should contact their doctor."

On Wednesday, the Santa Barbara Air Pollution Control District, along with the Public Health Department, issues an Air Quality Alert, which remains in effect until conditions improve.

"The crux of that message is keep an eye on conditions," said Bantilan. "The other main message is if you are smelling smoke or seeing elevated levels when you check the data, stay indoors as much as you can, that's really the best thing you can do, with your windows and doors shut ideally with some sort of air purifying running."

In San Luis Obispo County, Nipomo and the Nipomo Mesa are also experiencing unhealthy air quality for sensitive groups.

Both Air Districts recommend that if anyone smells smoke or see ash, they should take precautions, and use common sense to reduce exposure to smoke.

"Typically, if you are smelling smoke, there is an impact, and so you want to head indoors if you are sensitive to air pollution," said Field. "Close those windows and doors if you have preexisting conditions, heart and lung issues, asthma. We recommend that you head indoors or at least limit your exposure outside."

While it is currently unknown exactly how long smoke will remain in the air, it is expected to last at least a couple of more days into the weekend.

"These conditions are so dynamic, so you can't project out too far, but right now we're comfortable saying that at least through the weekend, people should expect it to be like it is right now," said Bantlian.

Late Thursday morning, San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District sent out a social media post saing model are still indicating an increase in smoke concentrations for this evening and into tomorrow morning.

The post added a weather forecast for this weekend is showing an extensive low-pressure system will begin to approach the Northern California and Oregon coast.

The change in pattern will shift winds away from a current northerly flow to a southern flow, meaning the wind will blow from south to the north.

With the change in wind direction, it is expected the southern flow will help push smoke away from the Central Coast, and help return weather back towards more normal conditions by Monday.

For more information and the latest air quality measurements in San Luis Obispo County, click here for the SLO County Air Pollution Control District website.

For more information and the latest air quality measurements in Santa Barbara County, click here for the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District website.

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Article Topic Follows: Fire
Air Pollution Control Districts
san luis obispo county
santa barbara county

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Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Dave, click here.


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