U.S Forest Service presentation details wildfire smoke impact locally

SOUTHERN OREGON, —The US Forest Service is sharing new information about wildfire smoke and its impact on communities. With spring beginning just days away, we’re diving into how southern Oregon stacks up.

Smoky summers, something southern Oregon and northern California residents, have gotten all too used to. Rick Graw with the US Forest Service, sharing new findings about the Rogue Valley in a presentation earlier this week.

“Since 2012 the Rogue Basin has had a real increase of the number of days that wildfire smoke is impacting our communities,” said Graw.

In his presentation, he pointed to patterns of smoke and its impact on communities by tracking state-operated smoke monitors.  This map shows the area’s average number of days with unhealthy air quality from 2015 to around 2020.

“Southwest Oregon communities, in Klamath Falls, Grants Pass, Medford, Ashland, Cave Junction, all experience on average a couple of weeks of smoke each wildfire season, that can be as much as 40 days a year of unhealthy air quality,” Graw said.

Graw says from 1999 to 2021 you can see the air quality index reaching levels of unhealthy air quality, getting progressively worse during July, August, and September.  Meteorologist Miles Bliss, with the National Weather Service, says this isn’t surprising, particularly in the Rogue Valley, because of its unique topography.

“We have fairly steep-walled valleys,  a little bit smaller than say the Willamette Valley to our north, smaller more narrow, and that means some of the smoke gets trapped, so why the Willamette Valley may clear it out, it may not clear here in the Rogue Valley,” said Bliss.

And though spring doesn’t begin for several days, the drought doesn’t appear to be ending soon. The governor already declared a drought in parched Klamath County, earlier than last year’s declaration.

“To give some perspective on the rainfall, Klamath Falls is 41% below normal for precipitation this time of year,” said Bliss.

On a larger scale, the national oceanic and atmospheric administration, or NOAA, announced its spring outlook Thursday. Its forecasters predict, “Prolonged, persistent drought in the west” for the second year in a row. They say, “Below-average precipitation is most likely for the region.”

You can view the US Forest Service presentation here.

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Jenna King is the 6pm and 11pm anchor for NBC5 News. Jenna is a Burbank, CA native. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Sports Business. During her time at Oregon she was part of the student-run television station, Duck TV. She also grew her passion for sports through her internship with the PAC 12 Network. When Jenna is not in the newsroom you can find her rooting for her hometown Dodgers, exploring the outdoors or binging on the latest Netflix release.
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