The Impact of Weather on Wildfire Smoke and What This Means for our Health

One of the biggest health threats from wildfire smoke comes from microscopic particles that can travel deep into our lungs. As the smoke gets worse, the concentration of particles in the air increases and can severely affect the respiratory system, and even worsen lung disease and chronic heart disease. To avoid these harmful effects, it is crucial that we understand the weather impacts on wildfire smoke so that we can accurately track them.

You might assume that if you live across the country from the notorious West Coast wildfires you will not be affected by any wildfire smoke. However, if the fires are large enough the subsequent smoke can travel along the jet stream reaching all the way to the East Coast. We have seen countless examples of this already during the 2021 wildfire season.

Various weather elements play an important role in how fast and how broadly the dispersion path grows. These elements consist of temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, cloud conditions, and precipitation. Depending on the current and forecast weather variables, wildfire smoke either builds up and lingers over one particular area or the smoke circulates in the atmosphere and impacts millions of people far away from the wildfire location. In fact, the higher the smoke reaches into the atmosphere, the farther the smoke can travel. In some situations, strong wildfires can form an explosive storm cloud called Pyrocumulonimbus. These billowing clouds launch the smoke even higher, reaching several miles above the surface of the earth into the stratosphere.

Research also suggests that smoke becomes more toxic as it builds, therefore impacting areas downwind exponentially more than the flat terrain they may have started at. Another impact from the weather happens overnight when the surface of the Earth cools as the sun goes down. This can create temperature inversions, especially across low-lying valleys, trapping smoke and increasing its concentrations. As the sun rises and winds pick up, the smoke is then dispersed miles downwind, worsening air quality for surrounding cities/states.

While most wildfire smoke stays contained near the surface, a fraction of the smoke is circulated into the upper atmosphere as mentioned above. Here, it has a significant impact on the planetary radiation balance and therefore impacts our climate. This is due to the heightened levels of brown carbon produced from wildfires. The brown carbon absorbs and scatters the sun rays, thus interfering with solar radiation. This demonstrates why it is essential that both surface and atmospheric wildfire smoke is tracked as this has become a dynamic threat to our health and our planet.


Monarch has partnered with DailyBreath, LLC, a cloud-based SAAS company delivering personalized environmental insights for better asthma outcomes. Uniquely translating symptom tracking, including the when, where, and what of THEIR triggers, DailyBreath provides those with asthma, ultimately, a personalized symptom forecast based on their individual sensitivity and on where they experience those triggers in their community. Download HERE.

Powered by Monarch Weather, our SHOW (Smoke Heatmap Overlay for Wildfires) feature provides timely and relevant information on Wildfires and Wildfire Smoke. The SHOW feature is also available as an interactive map interface for businesses.

Digital media platforms, healthcare providers, insurers, advocacy groups, universities, sports and recreational organizations, and city/county public health departments can all benefit from our wildfire smoke data to help ensure that those affected by respiratory conditions are actively aware of their smoke exposure. The map can be integrated into websites and mobile apps including online properties, patient portals, and asthma management apps.

About Monarch Weather & Climate Intelligence

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