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Smoky days may be behind us -- for now

A welcome change in the weather has given us a hint of autumn and the possibility of clearer skies across the Medford area for the foreseeable future.

“Until Wednesday, everyone can breathe a breath of fresh air,” said Shad Keene, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Medford.

Past Wednesday, Keene said it looks like the area should get more variable weather conditions that could help usher in some rainfall in September.

As soon as Monday morning, there is a chance of light rainfall in the region, he said.

Considering the variable weather, Keene said it’s unlikely we’ll see much in the way of unhealthy air in the days ahead, though we’ll likely still get some smoke from the 87,701-acre Klondike fire to the west of Grants Pass and the 1,971-acre Ramsey Canyon fire north of Sams Valley.

“Will Medford go back to unhealthy? It’s possible,” he said. “But it’s unlikely to get back to where we were at because of unsettled conditions.”

Unsettled air has helped flush out the valley since Friday. Even with temperatures heading up to the 90s by midweek, we should still have relatively clear skies and temperatures back into the 80s by the end of the week. The high of 93 on Wednesday is 5 degrees above normal, but after Wednesday, temperatures will be normal or slightly below normal.

“It’s encouraging,” Keene said. “It takes weak dry systems to break down these warmer air masses.”

Medford is also heading into a period when it historically receives some rain.

We typically get at least 1/10 of an inch by Sept. 3, and a quarter of an inch by Sept. 30. Of course, the valley has also waited until November to get a trace of rain and into December to get significant rain.

Last year, when the 192,000-acre Chetco Bar fire blanketed the area with unhealthy air, we received 0.12 inches of rain on Sept. 7 and 0.13 inches on Sept. 20.

Before the Sept. 7 rainfall last year we had several days of very unhealthy air. Afterward, the air quality remained in the moderate range before drifting up to one day of unhealthy before the second rain fell on Sept. 20, ending a reign of bad air days.

Moderate air quality is still a possibility on any given day after July 1, according to air quality monitoring that has been collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, air quality has been in the moderate level for 12 of the past 18 years on July 4 because of fireworks.

The 500,000-acre Biscuit Fire of 2002, the state’s largest recorded fire, had a string of moderate days in that summer and only a handful of unhealthy days.

But four of the last six summers have produced at least a few days of very unhealthy air from wildfires.

According to stats compiled by the weather service from the EPA, in 2018, we had 24 days of unhealthy or worse; in 2017, we had 15 days of unhealthy or worse; in 2015, we had 12; and 2013, we had nine.

Over the past 18 years, we’ve had moderate air quality extending past the middle of September in eight years. However, only in two of the past 18 years have we had unhealthy air past the middle of September.

Looking ahead, Keene said there is no significant precipitation in the long-range modeling.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

National Weather Service in Medford compiled this graphic to show how bad the air has been this year compared to the past 20 years.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneMedford's air quality is expected to improve, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service says.