PNNL scientist explains why there is so much smoke, and how long - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

PNNL scientist explains why there is so much smoke, and how long it will stay

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RICHLAND, WA - Regional wildfire smoke seems to be settling in to stay for many of us. But why...and for how long?

Reporter Rex Carlin spoke with Jason Tomlinson, an atmospheric scientist at PNNL, who says there's a combination of reasons the smoke is here, and for the foreseeable future...here to stay.

The answer to why there is so much smoke seemingly just sitting right on top of us is actually due to an atmospheric condition we usually see here in wintertime.

"Right now is really bad because we're underneath an inversion," Tomlinson said. "It's been very, very strong high pressure systems this year. You can think of a high pressure system as almost like putting a lid on the atmosphere. Air is sinking and pushing down. We're very familiar of that here in the wintertime, with the thick gray clouds we often see in December and January. A similar thing is happening here in the summertime. We've got really warm air loft, the air is sinking and pushing down and it's creating an inversion."

Tomlinson says when we do see inversions during the summer, it usually provides us some of our most beautiful days.

"Usually in the summer, we actually like inversions, because they create nice, clear, sunny, beautiful days," explained Tomlinson. "Great days to go hiking, camping, as we love to do in the northwest. The problem is when you have smoke, it does the opposite. It traps it at the surface, it creates days like you see here where the air gets really unhealthy and it gets hard to breathe."

Tomlinson says the other major reason the smoke is here to stay, at least for now, is because even if we do get a strong wind to bring new air in, there are fires in all directions around us...so the air is smoky everywhere.

"We've got fires in Oregon, Washington state north and west of here, and in Montana and Idaho to the east of here. So any directions the wind blows, it is bringing smoke in from some reason."

And for just how long this smoke will hang around?

"A lot of these fires currently occurring in the area, they're not forecasted to be extinguished until the end of September, even into even middle of October," said Tomlinson. "So we could be dealing with this for awhile going forward. And we'll have periods where it'll be cleaner air and dirtier air probably throughout the month of September."

Again, be careful about the amount of time you spend outside, especially if you have any underlying conditions.

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