Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

What a difference air quality makes

My (@shalahowell) tweet from August 21: "There's a squirrel in my backyard frantically digging a hole to stash an emergency horde of nuts and all I can think is "Same Dude Same"

The wildfires in Northern California got pretty close to us this past week. At one point the evacuation zone for the CZU Lightning Complex reached within 5 miles of our house.

We were lucky. CAL FIRE has contained the portion of the fire that threatened us, so barring unforeseen complications, we should be ok. Others are definitely not as fortunate.

Turns out there are a lot of scams that happen around wildfires, so if you wish to help out, play it safe and reserve your assistance for vetted organizations and people you know personally. The County of San Mateo published an update on Monday August 24 that includes several donation/volunteer opportunities. I like this list because it tells you exactly what would be helpful and provides contact information for vetted organizations ready and able to put your donations to work.

We’re fine, but we’ve gotten a ton of smoke

I was talking to my uncle the other day trying to explain how weird the light has been the past few days as a result of all that smoke and I found myself using words like “sepia-toned” and “looking at the world through a filter.”

This morning I remembered that I’ve been talking pictures of my garden all summer. It’s just so shocking to me that I’d actually be able to grow anything that I end up taking a picture of one plant or another nearly every day.

So I decided to flip through all those photos and see if I could find a set that would do a better job of capturing the change in the light from all the smoke in the air. Turns out I had a couple I had taken of the same group of flowers before and after the fires started.

The first picture I took at 9:32 a.m. on August 8, before the lightning storm that triggered the current crop of fires. It’s not a great picture, and I normally wouldn’t have posted it on the blog for obvious reasons. But since I have, please notice how grey our concrete deck is. The Air Quality Index (AQI) that day was 42 (good).

The purple flowers falling over the side of a clay pot stand out against the grey concrete.
Photo: Shala Howell

The next picture is from 11:32 a.m. on Sunday August 23. The AQI that day was 138 (unhealthy for sensitive groups, but an improvement over what we had been seeing). The photo shows the same set of flowers, albeit from a different angle. I did not use a filter on this photo, nor did I secretly take it at sunset. I took it at lunchtime, when you’d expect the day to be at its brightest. That warm orange tone in the formerly grey concrete is the result of the light being filtered through the smoke in the air.

In this photo, the purple flowers almost seem to glow, and the grey concrete has turned a warm orange.
Photo: Shala Howell

Bonus: The natural disaster season is still young. Prepare your family now.

I’ve spent much of the last week prepping our family to evacuate. Yes, we have kept a set of emergency bags packed since 2013, but our daughter keeps growing and supplies get old.

With wildfires just a dozen miles away, it seemed like a good time to recheck those bags. In case you would like to do the same, CAL FIRE’s Ready for Wildfire website is super helpful.

Be well. Stay safe. And if you are in the path of Hurricane Laura, evacuate now. Don’t wait. The National Weather Service doesn’t use words like “unsurvivable storm surge” lightly. See’s hurricane preparedness page here.

Thanks for reading Caterpickles.

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4 Responses to “What a difference air quality makes”

    • Shala Howell

      Is that what those are? I’m sure you will be shocked to learn that I just dumped a packet of mixed seeds into a large container and have just been enjoying whatever it is that decided to come up.



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