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What the National Weather Service says is trapping fire smoke in the Central Valley

Smoke from the Camp Fire in Butte County hangs over downtown Modesto, Calif. on Monday afternoon November 12, 2018. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District measured the air quality as “unhealthy” in Stanislaus County today.
Smoke from the Camp Fire in Butte County hangs over downtown Modesto, Calif. on Monday afternoon November 12, 2018. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District measured the air quality as “unhealthy” in Stanislaus County today. jlee@modbee.com

The National Weather Service says Modesto-area residents should expect to see smoke in the atmosphere for the rest of the week as firefighters continue to battle the Camp Fire in Butte County.

An inversion layer, which is warm air that acts like a lid, continues to trap smoke throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley, according to the weather service. The lid creates poor air quality and poor visibility.

“We’re going to continue to deal with the smoke for the next few days,” said Cory Mueller, a forecaster with the weather service in Sacramento.

He said the smoke in the Modesto-area could clear by the weekend if the wind shifts direction, but that’s just a possibility.

Inversion Smoke.png
Inversion Smoke National Weather Service

As of Monday, the Camp Fire has killed at least 29 people in the Paradise area of Butte County with more than 200 people missing. The wildfire had burned 113,000 acres and more than 6,400 homes, Cal Fire reported Monday morning.

On Saturday, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District issued an air quality alert that will remain in effect until the surrounding wildfires are extinguished. The alert was issued for Stanislaus, Merced, San Joaquin, Madera, Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties, along with the valley portion of Kern County.

“Exposure to particle pollution can cause serious health problems, aggravate lung disease, cause asthma attacks, acute bronchitis and increase the risk of respiratory infections,” according to the weather service.

Residents with heart or lung disease should follow their doctor’s advice, and older adults and children should avoid prolonged exposure to the smoky air and strenuous activity.

While the region has experienced smoky conditions, overnight low temperatures in the Modesto area has hovered around record levels this week. Mueller said the cold weather has little to do with the trapped smoke.

“Once the sun sets, the temperatures seem to fall quite a bit,” Mueller said during a phone interview Monday. “We just really had dry air... When we have light winds and dry air, we see cooler temperatures.”

The low temperature early Sunday dipped to 31 degrees, beating the record low of 32 degrees set on Nov. 11, 1946, according to weather service. Monday’s low temperature reached 32 degrees missing the record low of 28 degrees set on Nov. 12, 1938.

He said the average low in Modesto for this time of year is 46 degrees. It won’t be quite as cold the rest of the week, Mueller said, but the overnight temperature will be closer to the average lows for the area.

For more information on air quality, visit the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s web site www.valleyair.org or call the nearest district office: in Modesto at (209) 557-6400; in Fresno at (559) 230-6000; in Bakersfield at (661) 392-5500.

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