If you’ve walked outside during the last week, you’ve probably noticed the smell of smoke in the air. The current exceptional drought covering much of northern Georgia and surrounding states has created perfect conditions for the growth of wildfires, which can be caused by careless trash burning, sparks from chains dragging behind trailers, or in a few cases, arson.
The smoke from the fires can be carried a long way downwind, and winds from the north this week have directed a lot of the smoke right at Athens and Atlanta. Because of high atmospheric pressure,which acts like a lid on the smoke plumes, the smoke is concentrated near the ground. As the wind shifts around with the weather patterns, areas may see exceptionally heavy smoke or may experience clearer conditions.
Air quality conditions can be tracked at the Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow website at airnow.gov. A web page devoted to the fires and plumes can be found at www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=topics.smoke_wildfires. Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division of Air Quality also provides a map of current conditions at amp.georgiaair.org.
The smoke particles from fires can be very irritating to lungs, especially for those who are already prone to asthma or other respiratory diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips for protecting yourself from wildfire smoke at www.cdc.gov/features/wildfires.
No immediate end to the wildfires is seen in the near-term forecast. With no rain forecast for the next week, extremely dry conditions will continue. Winds from the south may come into the area in the next day as a cold front approaches the area, clearing the air for Athens. However, winds from the north will return after the front passes, bringing the smoke back to Athens and Atlanta.
Southern Regional Extension Forestry, housed at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources has more information about the smoke at www.sref.info/news/articles/new-wildland-fire-education-resources-offer-extension-more-ways-to-get-involved .