Effects of Interior fires keep Kenai Peninsula cloudy and cool

Posted: Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Wildfire smoke is partly to blame for the ash-gray skies over much of the Kenai Peninsula this week, according to a National Weather Service representative.

The thin haze of smoke, which showed up in the skies over the peninsula earlier this week, comes from the 55 active fires burning across northeastern Alaska.

"The smoke has worked its way down to Southcentral Alaska," said Amy Bedal, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Anchorage.

The smoke is nowhere near as thick as it was in Fairbanks on Monday, when health officials advised residents to stay indoors. However, there is enough in the sky to have an affect on the weather.

The thin veil of smoke from the distant wildfires, coupled with normal cloud cover, blocks out the sun and lowers the air temperature.

"You're at least 5, maybe 10 degrees cooler than you would be without it," Bedal said.

Although the gray, smoky skies look like they're about to pour down rain, the cooler daytime temperatures actually reduce the chance of precipitation.

"It's the daytime heating that fuels those afternoon and evening showers; less heating means rain is less likely," Bedal said.

Overcast skies and cooler temperatures also mean that weaker sea breezes and an increase in humidity are likely, she said.

Although wildfire smoke has contributed to the overcast skies this week, much of the gray is regular cloud cover that has little or nothing to do with the wildfires.

"A lot of what is happening is normal summertime weather," Bedal said.

The forecaster bases her conclusion, in part, on satellite images. She can tell the difference between smoke from the wildfires and normal cloud cover.

"Clouds show up as bright-white, puffy, more solid. Smoke has a thin, milky appearance," she said.

The skies likely will remain smoky until the prevailing winds change direction. The wind is predicted to reverse direction and blow out of the south instead of the north, but the reversal could take a week, Bedal said.

If the wind direction persists, overcast skies and wildfire-smoked salmon, hamburgers and hot dogs may be on the menu for the Fourth of July weekend.

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