As cities from the Cascades to the coast are experiencing devastating wildfires and thick smoke, Central Oregon residents have enjoyed clear blue skies — for now.
A favorable wind shift Monday night is the reason the High Desert has been spared the last two days from heavy wildfire smoke, according to Laura Gleim, a spokesperson for Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. “The winds are coming from the east and blowing west,” Gleim said.
“That is the direction it’s pushing the fires and that is the direction it’s pushing the smoke.”
Gleim said the wind pattern is expected to continue through Thursday, but could shift Friday bringing the heavy smoke into the region over the weekend.
“Smoke can rapidly come into a community depending on which way the wind is shifting,” Gleim said.
Dan Slagle, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Pendleton, said Central and Eastern Oregon have been fortunate this week with few major wildfires and wind blowing clear air from the east.
The Lionshead Fire west of Warm Springs is the lone wildfire in Central Oregon.
Since it started from a lightning strike Aug. 16, it has grown to 105,340 acres and is 5% contained, according to state fire officials.
Smoke from the fire blanketed the region on Labor Day, before the winds changed to blow the smoke out of Central Oregon.
The east to west winds this week are coming from a weather system in Canada that has brought cold temperatures and snowfall to the Rocky Mountains, Slagle said.
“It’s not generally a wind pattern we see this time of year,” he said.
The weather service, like DEQ, is expecting the winds to change Friday and potentially bring the smoke that is affecting the western part of the state.
“I would say prepare for smoke this weekend,” Slagle said.
By early next week, the weather forecast shows a slight chance of rain for Central Oregon. Any precipitation would help reduce the smoke and fires, Slagle said.
Oregon DEQ has not yet issued an air quality warning, but officials plan to reassess the weather conditions Thursday and prepare an advisory if necessary.
Gleim said the agency is reminding residents to take precautions if the smoke returns this weekend. Smoke can irritate people’s eyes and lungs and make some medical conditions worse, according to Oregon DEQ. Young children, adults over 65, pregnant women, and people with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory conditions are most at risk.
Residents can find the latest air quality information at Oregonsmoke.blogspot.com.