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Does rain help clear wildfire smoke? A meteorologist explains

First Alert Weather: How much longer will smoke last?
First Alert Weather: How much longer will smoke last? 02:21

By Matthew Villafane, CBS2 Meteorologist/Weather Assistant

Rain, for the most part, is a very beneficial thing. In times like this, it's even more valued than usual. 

Not only does rain nourish plants, and replenish water supplies, but it cleanses the air. As rain falls through the atmosphere, it attracts ten to hundreds of suspended particles in the air. These can range from pollutants to organic particles, such as is the case now, with tons of smoke suspended in the air from the Canadian wildfires. This is a process called "coagulation." When the rain travels from the atmosphere to the ground, it takes all of these suspended particles down with it, essentially cleansing the air.

In order to extensively clean out the air currently over our region, we would need a major rainstorm, such as a tropical storm or nor'easter. None of those are in the forecast though. What is in the forecast are scattered showers and storms. These showers and storms will not be widespread, and some locales may miss out altogether. 

For areas that are lucky enough to receive a heavy shower, air quality will improve slightly within that local area. Because the aerial coverage of smoke and haze extends over a thousand miles, the improvement would be short-lived.

What would really be our saving grace in this scenario is a shift in winds. Throughout this week, the prevailing wind direction in our area has been from the north/northwest. This has put us directly in a beeline from where the fires are raging in Quebec, allowing the smoke to flow right in, unrestrained. Fundamentally, this is a perfect setup to create the apocalyptic look and feel we've experienced, as well as the very poor air quality. It is also an extremely rare occurrence. 

Thankfully, the winds are forecasted to shift into the west/southwest direction later on Friday into Saturday. This will steer all the smoke and haze out of our region, giving us much needed relief, and maybe a shot at seeing the sun again. 

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