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Clearer air forecast for Sonoma County as wind begins to push smoke east

Onshore flow is expected to improve air quality by Tuesday after a record run of foul air in the Bay Area.|

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On a normal day in a normal year, west Petaluma resident Annette Cooperluiz and her retired racehorse, Rocket, wouldn’t be anywhere near Crane Creek Regional Park east of Rohnert Park.

Point Reyes National Seashore is her favored spot for rides, Cooperluiz said, but that Marin County destination is on fire and off limits, besieged by dozens of West Coast wildfires that have blanketed the region with smoke and made outdoor activity unhealthy if not hazardous.

On Sunday, Cooperluiz and Rocket were out for the first time.

“I haven’t ridden all week because it was really bad air quality ― because my horse had been coughing,” Cooperluiz said Sunday afternoon, as onshore winds, blowing west to east, began to clear Bay Area skies. “He needed to get out.”

Although the air quality in the region was ranked unhealthy most of the day, residents across Sonoma County took advantage of the noticeable improvement from recent days to get outside after nearly four straight weeks under some threat of fire or smoke.

National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Canepa said winds from the Pacific had begun by 3 p.m. Sunday, something he called “good news,” and marked the start of a dayslong forecast that should see smoke pushed out of the Bay Area.

North Bay forecasts call for air quality to remain in the unhealthy category on Monday, but to improve to the moderate ranking by Tuesday and remain at that level for much of the week.

Still, when the latest Spare the Air warning is set to expire Monday, it will mark the 28th straight day that Bay Area residents have been urged to remain indoors while limiting their travel and other activities linked to air pollution. That stretch doubles the previous mark, set in 2018, and there have been just three “good” air quality days in the past month as Sonoma County stands poised to begin its fifth week amid an unrivaled statewide outbreak of lightning-sparked fires and smoke.

Above much of California and even out at sea, thousands of feet separate the bottom of that smoke layer from the top, experts say.

“I think this is just compounding the mental health challenges that we were already facing as a result of the pandemic – and the 2017 wildfires,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, adding that she was tired of using the word “unprecedented.” “We are now a community steeped in repetitive trauma, and now to be in a place where we can’t even go outside…”

Like Cooperluiz, Supervisor Shirlee Zane took advantage of a slightly better air day to visit her horse, Lucy, north of Petaluma. But she didn’t ride.

Zane has been part of a Senior Wellness Task Force throughout much of the pandemic, and she said poor air quality was a topic at last Thursday’s meeting, as the group works to craft messaging encouraging seniors to interact more, albeit safely, for their mental health. One solution, “go outside,” hit a hiccup in the past month.

“It’s really a struggle to get the messaging right,” Zane said. “By adding this additional element here of the gray, muggy, dangerous, ugly sky and air around us.”

In such conditions, experts recommend seniors or those with chronic respiratory problems avoid unnecessary trips outdoors.

Hopkins, a major advocate early in the pandemic for opening county parks to residents for free to bolster mental health, said she was eager for the skies to clear more fully this week.

“I hope to see everyone out and about in our regional parks and our trails as soon as the air is clear,” she said. “That reminds us of why we live in Sonoma County.”

Many people on Sunday didn’t wait for that official benchmark. Among those dining or recreating outdoors were, the Clark family, which gathered at Howarth Park to grill tacos in celebration of Ron Clark’s 57th birthday.

It was the first time they had seen each other in two months, and they picked the outdoor location as a precaution against coronavirus, preferring to take their chances with the smoke.

The barbecue was a chance at normalcy, and Mercedes Clark, Ron’s daughter, put normal in perspective.

“It’s one thing after another with our world right now,” she said. “It’s just like a pandemic, wildfires ― every year for the last four or five years. It sucks, but it’s starting to become the new normal.”

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com.

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