Updated: Relief possible for Revelsmoke as wind shift forecast

Relief could be in the forecast in Revelstoke in the next couple of days as prevailing weather patterns are fore case to shift smoke from Washington state wildfires eastward, missing the Columbia region.

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File photo: Smoke choked the skies over Revelstoke in August, 2017. Here, the sun appears as a red dot through the thick smoke just before sunset on Aug. 25. Increased forest fire activity is linked to climate change. Photo: Aaron Orlando | Revelstoke Mountaineer

I used to smoke Dunhills, now I just ride downhill.

Buh-bump! 

If wind patterns change as predicted in the next day or so, Revelstoke could get some relief from the smoky skies that have choked the region since the weekend.

Ralph Adams is a Kamloops-based air quality meteorologist with the B.C. Ministry of Environment. He said winds that are blowing smoke northeast from the massive Stickpin wildfire in Washington state are expected to shift, sending the smoke more eastward, hopefully missing Revelstoke.

Currently, there is a “smoky skies” advisory in Revelstoke, which is a general smokiness advisory, something Adams described as “a proactive thing” that notifies residents that precautions should be taken.

In fact, the environment ministry doesn’t have a monitor that continuously measures smoke levels here, so the exact level of particulate matter can’t be measured.

As a side note, Adams said the the Ministry of Environment had a particulate matter monitor in Revelstoke until 2014, when the City of Revelstoke requested that the air quality monitor be removed.

The machine measured whats known as ‘particulate matter 2.5’ or a certain size of particulate matter created typically by combustion reactions, such as fires or internal combustion engines. Adams said the ministry monitors for that range of air pollutions because they are the ones most commonly associated with health issues.

He said it wasn’t unusual for municipalities to request the monitors be removed. Even though they are funded by the province, they can incur incidental costs. The City of Revelstoke had closed for the day by the time we interviewed Adams, so were are unable to get confirmation on the reasons for the monitoring machine removal.

Adams added that from a management perspective, monitors are helpful, but the real solution is taking steps to reduce emissions.

“Monitoring has absolutely no effect on smoke levels,” Adams said. “The sensible thing to do is to take steps to reduce levels.”

He said, for example, a common complaint he receives is about dust caused by industrial operations. Although you could monitor for it,  if you can actually see it, the problem has already been identified and therefore management steps can be taken.

For those concerned about the possible health impacts of all this smoke, and what to do about it, see this guide from Interior Health.

Update: What happened to the air quality monitor?

This update was posted on Aug. 28, the day after the original story was posted

The Revelstoke Mountaineer checked in with city staff to find out why the monitor was removed last year.

“It was installed initially for the function of monitoring the air because we had that beehive burner on Downie Street,” corporate services executive Dawn Levesque said.

According to Levesque, the contract between the city, the school district and the province on the air quality monitor ended in 2012.

“There was $10,000 paid towards the program and city was responsible for such things as taking out the filters, recording data and processing the filters with the Ministry of Environment,” Levesque said.

“The ministry wanted to replace the equipment as they were not happy with it being on top of [the firehall] roof where it has to be shoveled.”

The intention never seems to have been not to replace the monitor, however discussions about reinstalling it on the newer visitor centre building, which wouldn’t have to be shoveled, have fallen by the way-side.

“Air quality is important to the city, however it falls under the ministry’s jurisdiction,” Levesque said.

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