SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Umbrellas replaced mask faces on Bay Area streets early Wednesday as a storm front began to clear out a layer of unhealthy air that had been draped over the region for nearly two weeks.
Light showers fell, removing Camp Fire particulates from the air which has ranged from unhealthy to hazardous since the hours after wildfire’s outbreak in faraway Butte County on Nov. 8.
The culprit was a high pressure system stalled off the coast which tossed up an atmospheric wall that halted the smoke plume’s western movement over the Bay Area.
A low front has pushed the system aside and replaced the northeastern winds driving smoke from the fire into the Bay Area with gusts from the south.
By 5 a.m., according to the EPA’s Airnow.gov website, the Air Quality Index over Oakland was a moderate 98 and improving. San Francisco was over 100 and unhealthy for people with conditions that made them sensitive to bad air but it also was improving by the hour.
Meanwhile, the air over San Jose had improved to a good AQI reading of 46.
“The air quality has cleared up as you can see and the lack of masks people seem to be feeling a little more comfortable,” said Park Tavern Manager Lindsey Young as the winds changed directions Tuesday evening.
“It’s (the wet weather) going to help get the stuff out of the air for us, number one, and number two it is going to also help out the Camp Fire in extinguishing the flames,” said KPIX 5 meteorologist Paul Deanno.
But health officials warned local residents not to expect all their symptoms from the last 11 days to disappear immediately.
UCSF Pulmonologist Dr. Meshell Johnson said to think of your lungs as a self-cleaning oven.
“It’s a regular process for the lungs,” she said. “But in times of bad air quality – it’s a lot more stuff that is getting into your lungs than is usual and so your lungs are working a little overtime to clean up all the bad particulates that have deposited into your airways.”
When the skies do return to normal, Johnson said don’t expect to feel better immediately.
“It’s (the lung natural cleansing process) not going to get everything out immediately,” she said. “It may take a little bit of time for your lungs to kind of get back to their usual state.”
The rains were expected to linger in the Bay Area and throughout Northern California for the next few days. The showers will break a dry spell that had reached 233 days in Oakland.
While the front will cleanse Bay Area skies, it will also bring the potential of flash floods to the Camp Fire region and snow to the Sierra.