The haze of smoke from wildfires in British Columbia hangs over Lake Union in Seattle on Tuesday evening, 8 July 2017. Photo: Ruth Fremson / The New York Times

By Lindy West
9 August 2017

SEATTLE (The New York Times) – The weather forecast for Seattle on Wednesday reads “89 degrees, smoke.” We first noticed the smoke, drifting down from wildfires still burning in British Columbia, around Aug. 2, just as a heat wave sent temperatures spiking well into the 90s (the historical average for that week is 77) and the ubiquitous Pacific winds dwindled to a standstill. “Nature’s air-conditioning is broken,” the National Weather Service told the Seattle Times.

The sky turned brown and opaque. The neighboring city of Bellevue, which normally glitters above Lake Washington to the east, disappeared. The mountains disappeared. I haven’t seen a tree move in a week. It’s as though a giant cloche has been placed over the whole region, like God is playing molecular gastronomy and we are her smoked langoustine cotton candy duck balloons. You can feel the air on your skin, powdery and wrong, somehow both sweltering and clammy. Residents have been warned not to exercise; people with asthma are clutching their inhalers, white-knuckled.

There’s a mental health impact, too. To live in Seattle is to exist, perpetually, in the bargaining stage of grief. From October through May, generally speaking, it drizzles. Every day. This past fall and winter, we broke a 122-year-old record for rain and had only three sunny, mild days in six months. What gets us through the gray, like a mantra, is the promise of summer. Summers in Seattle are perfect, bright blue and fresh, and all winter long we assure ourselves, over and over, “This is worth it, for that.” Please let this one be a good summer, a long summer, a real Seattle summer. We need it. It’s our medicine.

This smoke is stealing our summer. People are on edge. Traffic seems worse. Yesterday, in the car, my husband was telling me about two guys he saw fighting on the street, when I got distracted by two guys fighting on the street. It’s been a freaky, tense time.

It was evocative, to put it mildly, to read in The Times about a forthcoming federal climate change report while choking on hot, brown smoke.

Not only are human behaviors “primarily responsible” for climate change, the report says, but the repercussions are not some vague abstraction for distant equatorial communities or our faceless descendants to deal with. Americans are feeling the impacts of climate change right this second.

“In the United States,” Lisa Friedman wrote, “the report concludes with ‘very high’ confidence that the number and severity of cool nights have decreased since the 1960s, while the frequency and severity of warm days have increased.” The report also notes that cold waves are less common and heat waves are more common. [more]

We’re Choking on Smoke in Seattle

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