With the smoke over the Shuswap so thick in recent days that the Fly Hills are all but invisible through the haze, many wonder when the region will get a reprieve.
Unfortunately, according to the B.C. Ministry of Environment, it’s difficult to predict the movement of smoke as it is greatly affected by both weather patterns and fire activity.
Gail Roth, an air quality meteorologist with the ministry, says one major factor contributing to the thick haze settling in over the region is the valley’s location between so many major fires both in B.C. and in U.S. states close to the Canada-U.S. border.
“Right now there are local fires in the region but there is also quite a bit of smoke coming up from Washington state right now too,” she said Wednesday. “Especially for the next 24 hours there is quite a bit of smoke flow coming up from the east, from the states there. At least for tomorrow and likely later in the week we are expecting something similar.”
Local weather systems are also contributing to the longevity of the smoke hanging around the region. Roth says a high-pressure ridge has set in over the Shuswap, creating calm winds which easily transport in smoke but don’t have the force to blow it out of the area.
She also notes that, while a cooling trend is expected to help stave off the smoke by the end of the week, changing weather patterns and any additional wildfire activity may alter that timeline significantly.
The ministry keeps an index of air quality forecasts for each region, with areas around the Shuswap and Okanagan fluctuating between moderate and high risk. The areas most likely to experience high-risk air quality are near Kamloops and in the North Okanagan, which are expected to remain at high or severe risk for much of the week.
The air quality index advises residents in high risk areas to reduce or reschedule outdoor activities while the smoke is still thick, especially if suffering any symptoms of coughing or throat irritation.
An Interior Health information package notes that smoke affects people differently depending on their health, age and the amount of exposure they have to the smoke.
Children, seniors and those with other medical conditions are the most affected, but IH suggests visiting a doctor if the smoke causes coughing or a sore throat.
Anyone with asthma or respiratory problems is recommended to be particularly cautious.
For those determined to not let the smoke keep them inside, IH suggests monitoring local air quality reports on the Ministy of Environment website and considering travelling to areas with better air quality and less smoke.