Winter is coming. And with this week’s weather of thick smoke from wildfires across the West and a storm front bringing a blanket of snow in early September, it’s easy to start envisioning the long, apocalyptic winter of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Fortunately, according to hydrometeorological technician Dan Cuevas from the National Weather Service forecast office in Grand Junction, the storm front will serve to shoo the smoke along, clearing the valleys of high smoke levels.
“Behind the cold front, the winds are going to become north, northeasterly,” Cuevas said. “There’s no real fires up that way that have smoke, so these winds may kind of thin it out.”
While several fires in northern Colorado have sent ash sprinkling down across cities in the Front Range, Cuevas noted that the smoke settling across the southwest corner of the state is “mostly coming from California.”
The high smoke levels prompted the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to issue an air quality health advisory for over a dozen counties across the state, including San Miguel County, through 4 p.m. Tuesday. With a haze of smoke obscuring ridgelines and transforming the sun into a pale pink disk, the CDPHE advisory noted that when visibility drops below five miles due to smoke, the air quality has reached unhealthy levels.
“The air quality can be considered poor when wildfires are causing smoke or particulates that reduce visibility to a few miles or when the air quality is making a person sick,” explained Dr. Sharon Grundy, primary care medical director at the Telluride Medical Center. “When this occurs, consider leaving the area until the air is clear again. When that is not an option, stay indoors as much as possible, close windows if you can and limit or eliminate outdoor exercise until the air clears.”
For most healthy people, a few days of wildfire smoke exposure is not cause for major alarm, according to Grundy, though common symptoms such as irritated eyes and throat may occur from the particulates in the air. Those with underlying health concerns, she said, such as asthma, allergies, chronic lung disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, should take precautions and avoid unnecessary time outdoors while smoke persists.
“Poor air quality can affect underlying medical conditions,” Grundy noted. “People who have underlying lung disease should take medications as prescribed, and use a rescue inhaler if one has been prescribed. If you require increased medication or are experiencing increased symptoms, call your provider's office to discuss the need for an evaluation.”
Meanwhile, with the recent early season snowfall heralding the changing of the seasons, officials note that while it’s still early to shift into full winter mode, it’s a good idea to begin taking certain precautions.
“It may not necessarily be time yet to prepare your home and vehicle for winter, but it is a good idea when we have an early winter storm warning like this one to take reasonable precautions,” advised Susan Lilly, public information officer for the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office. “Check the forecast and the roads before committing to traveling, especially on mountain passes. If you decide to drive, it is recommended you pack extra food, water and warm clothing in the event of an emergency.”
The sudden shift from hot to cold weather at this time of year, according to Cuevas, is “a little unusual,” though he noted, “these things do happen.”
“The weather for August into early September was unseasonably warm. It feels like a very drastic change,” he said, adding, “By the weekend we should be back to dry weather.”