Portland’s Air Is Even More Polluted Than Shanghai’s Right Now Due to Wildfire Smoke

The air quality is so bad, Portland has even closed its pools for today and tomorrow.

Feeling a little wheezy today? That's because the air in Portland is currently more polluted than that of Shanghai, Beijing and New Delhi. The Pacific Northwest has among the worst air quality of anywhere in the country today.

According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the air quality in Portland has reached the "unhealthy" stage, or stage four of their six-stage gauge to determine air quality. Right now, Portland is measuring a 174 Air Quality Index. Anything above 201 is considered "very unhealthy." Gresham, Hillsboro and Beaverton are all in the "unhealthy" range as well. The high levels of air pollution are due to smoke from wildfires around the state.

The air quality is so bad that Portland Parks and Recreation has closed Portland's outdoor public pools for the rest of the day, as well as tomorrow. They plan to reopen on Saturday. The movie scheduled to screen at the North Park Blocks and concert scheduled for Kenton Park have also been cancelled, as are activities scheduled at Holladay Park and Director Park.

When air quality reaches into the "unhealthy" range, Oregon Health Authority recommends schools cancel athletic events and practices, where students will be out for 2-3 hours.

If you do need to cool off somewhere, the city has opened three additional cooling centers, and Portland Parks and Recreation has increased community center offerings. 

Here are the cooling center locations open today. The county is also offering free transportation to its cooling centers. A ride is available by calling 503-226-0700.

  • Multnomah County Walnut Park Building, 5325 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Portland (Hours: Weekdays, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Weekends, 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.)
  • Multnomah County East Building, 600 N.E. 8th St., Gresham (Hours: Weekdays, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Weekends, 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.)
  • Hollywood Senior Center, 1820 N.E. 40th Ave., Portland (Hours: Weekdays, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Weekends, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.; *CLOSED Saturday)
  • Multnomah County Mead Building, 421 SW 5th Ave., Portland (Hours: Weekdays, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Weekends 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.)
  • Elm Court Center, 1032 SW Main St., Portland (Hours: Thursday through Sunday, 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.)
  • Portland Building (in partnership with the City of Portland), 1120 SW 5th Ave, Portland (Hours: Thursday, 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.)

The air quality has been getting progressively worse since Monday, when Portland had a 59 AQI, which is considered moderate. Yesterday, levels reached 101 AQI, which is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups.

DEQ suggests people with heart or lung disease, children and older adults should avoid all physical outdoor activity, and that everyone should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion.

This advice is likely to remain in effect; the smoke doesn't look like it's leaving anytime soon, according to the National Weather Service.

"Models are currently in disagreement for when the smoke will be moving out of the area," says meteorologist David Bishop. "Some of the models have it moving out Friday afternoon or Friday evening going into Saturday, and others have it hanging around until the middle of next week."

The smoke is, however, doing a small part to actually keep the city cooler, Bishop explains. Temperatures were originally forecasted for 106 or 107 degrees today, but the National Weather Service is now forecasting 104 or 105 degrees.

Thankfully, this weekend should be a little cooler, with temperatures forecasted for 96 degrees on Friday, 92 for Saturday and 95 degrees for Sunday. Early next week, temperatures should be in the upper 80s to lower 90s, whether or not the smoke stays around.

Portland hasn't had air quality this poor since summer 2015 when levels reached the "very unhealthy" range, according to Oregon DEQ spokesperson Greg Svelund.

"We saw conditions that were worse than we're seeing now," Svelund says. "We haven't seen anything since then that's been near this in terms of impact. For the most part, Portland is lucky when it comes to wildfires and usually avoid smoke, but sometimes we can get inundated pretty good."

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