COLUMBIA, S.C. — Smoke from fires in the Western US will move over the Southeast--including South Carolina-- on Thursday and Friday giving a hazy look to the sky and reducing air quality in spots.
The highest concentrations of smoke will be over North Carolina. Most of North Carolina is under a "Code Orange" today which means the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups. The Air Quality is not expected to be as bad in South Carolina, but air quality could be reduced in the northern midlands on Thursday with air quality issues possible on Friday as well.
The Problem's Out West
The Western US is the source of the smoke, where the wildfire situation continues to worsen. According to the US Drought Monitor, "Fire concerns remain across the West as a whole, as there have been nearly 40 new wildfires reported since July 10 (89 as of July 14)".
When the smoke from these massive fires reach about 20,000 to 30,000 feet into the atmosphere, they encounter much faster winds (the jet stream) that can transport the smoky air thousands of miles. The trail of smoke has been traveling along the jet stream bringing hazy skies and reduced air quality to cities in the Northeastern US earlier this week. Now the jet stream is moving south and the smoky conditions are moving into the Southeastern US.
The smoke will mostly remain in the upper atmosphere providing a canvas for vivid sunsets, but several issues as well. The smoke will warm temperatures in the upper atmosphere. This puts a ceiling on cloud growth, which could reduce rain chances, and traps ground level pollutants close to the surface.
Southeast Smoke Forecast
Latest model guidance puts the worst of the smoke in North Carolina today with lower concentrations moving over South Carolina for Friday. The smoke will begin to dissipate this weekend over the southeastern US.
Beyond this Week
The fire situation could get worse in the west. The region experienced their highest temperatures on record earlier this summer. This has created rapidly deteriorating drought conditions across the region. The US Drought Monitor has been keeping track of drought conditions since 2000, and the current drought out west is the worst on record. The latest drought numbers from the agency on July 13th put 95% of the Western US in a drought, and 28% of the region is in an excessive drought. "Excessive drought is the agency's highest drought classification, reserved for situations where water emergencies, crop and pasture failures, and wildfires are likely.
Smoke from these fires can only arrive by the jet stream, so hazy skies in our corner of the country will be temporary.