I just returned from a chilly (48 degrees) morning walk.  The sun is out, the skies are clear, and the fall colors are stunning.  This should be a regular experience in October in W. Washington, with the exception of days when it rains.

Unfortunately, in October 2022, this morning felt like a one off.

According to the Seattle Times, in King County we have had 13 days of unhealthy air since August 1.  I don’t know how many of those days were in October, now called ‘Smoketober’, but it feels like a lot ☹. It now seems like Moderate Air Quality is the new Good!

Since 2017, we have had 4 years with a ‘smoke season’ – usually occurring somewhere between August 1 and the end of October.  I think that we all thought each year was a bit of a fluke, but the data is saying something different. 

What is particularly concerning this year is that the smoke is coming from wildfires in W. Washington. Wildfires in W. Washington used to be a fairly rare.

The most problematic fire so far is the Bolt Creek Fire.  It started on 9/10 and is still only 43% contained – bring on the fall rains!  It is believed to be human caused and a vehicle fire is the possible culprit.  While we can’t blame climate change for this particular fire, climate change does increase the odds for wildfires overall.  I didn’t make this up, here is an article from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association about the connection.

As I write this, I want to acknowledge that wildfire smoke is a big deal throughout the West this time of year.  My point is that W. Washington is no longer an exception and I can no longer be smug.

What does this mean for my daily exercise routine?

I am following Danny Westneat’s advice and hanging on to my N-95 masks and wearing them on my walks (in addition to wearing them in crowded spaces for COVID prevention).  Even masked, I don’t exercise outdoors when the air quality is either Unhealthy or Very Unhealthy.  When that happens, I bite the bullet and go to the gym.  I am not a big fan of exercising indoors, but that is looking like my new reality for ‘smoke season’!

Hang onto those N95’s.  It turns out the whole pandemic routine of masking and staying home might have just been practice for a condition more permanent.

Danny Westneat, Seattle Times columnist, 10/23/22



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