Scorching hot temperatures. Eerie yellow-gray sky. The sharp smell of smoke and flakes of ash raining on the land.
No, it wasn't the apocalypse. It was Labor Day weekend in Southern California – a suitably weird and frightening keystone for a strange and frightening summer.
Angelenos was already nervous after six months of surrealism sparked by the global COVID-19 pandemic, but many were pushed to the edge on this holiday weekend when the temperature records in Woodland Hills (121), Chino (121), Topanga, have been broken (118) and Pasadena (114).
Furious fires in the Angeles National Forest and Yucaipa added to the mood at the end of the days. And the warning from the National Weather Service that the Santa Ana winds are likely to blow through counties of Los Angeles and Ventura on Tuesday and Wednesday only heightened anxiety.
“Ashes everywhere. Terrible air. Extreme heat. Santa Ana is expected tomorrow. COVID in the air. # enough2020 “, tweeted Ana Flores from Duarte on Monday and summed up the situation perfectly.
I pray for all of the firefighters who protect us.
The #Bobcatfire is 7 miles from my home and the city of Duarte is on alert for possible voluntary evacuations.
Ashes everywhere. Terrible air. Extreme heat. Santa Ana is expected tomorrow. COVID in the air. # sufficient2020 https://t.co/wq4CKvTSx9
– Ana Flores (@laflowers) September 7, 2020
Californians across Southland posted pictures of cars dusted with fine paper-like ash and movie scenes of a ghostly orange sun peering through the ubiquitous smoke.
People reported that in the San Gabriel Valley as well as more distant places like Glendale, Pico Rivera, Whittier, and even Santa Monica and Redondo Beach, ash rained down from the sky.
"This is the only snow we get in LA," tweeted Kelly Anne Greer alongside a picture of her ash-covered Toyota.
This falling ash doesn't just look threatening. It can contain toxic chemicals, including some polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and metals like arsenic or lead, that can be released from burned materials, said Nahal Mogharabi, communications director for the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
"When we talk about the health effects of forest fire smoke, our main concern is breathing in the tiny particles," she said. "However, ash, where the particles are generally larger, is about toxins and it depends on the composition of the materials."
The South Coast AQMD advised the public to avoid skin contact with ash that fell from the sky after wildfire.
Don't clean up the ash yourself if you have lung or heart problems, and never use leaf blowers to blow them away.
Instead, the AQMD recommends cleaning the ash with a damp cloth or, if it's on your car, going to a car wash.
The agency also said ash-filled water should be diverted to floor areas and away from the drainage system.
And as if all that ash, heat, and fire weren't bad enough, Ryan Ward, a PhD student in environmental engineering at Caltech, noted on Sunday that ground-level ozone peaked at 200 parts per billion – well above the average healthy amount of 70 Parts per billion.
"Absolutely crazy #atmoschem in Pasadena / LA today," he tweeted next to a picture of a piece of ash that had just fallen into the palm of his hand. "It's time to put that sarcophagus back in the ground and return to regularly scheduled vibrations in 2020 !!"
Absolutely crazy #atmoschem in Pasadena / LA today. Ash literally falling from pyrocumulus in my back yard. Temperatures and ozone in excess of 43 ° C and 200 ppb, respectively. It's time to put this sarcophagus back in the ground and return to regularly scheduled vibrations in 2020 !! pic.twitter.com/B0Jc6tl6O6
– Ryan Ward (@climateryan) September 7, 2020