Last Updated at 4:45 p.m. on Thursday, July 21

A change in our weather pattern is underway, with much cloudier and cooler conditions — and rain — coming to southcentral Alaska Thursday and Friday. Light scattered rain across much of Anchorage Thursday morning gave way to dry overcast conditions by afternoon.

Since the McHugh Creek Wildfire began last weekend, mostly northerly winds have kept smoke blowing away from Anchorage. However, just before midnight Wednesday, an approaching weather system shifted winds to a more southerly direction.

Breezy conditions Thursday could exacerbate the wildfire, and continue to blow smoke into Anchorage. As the weather front pushes off to the east, winds will weaken and shift to a southwesterly direction. This should help push the smoke back out of Anchorage, towards the east/northeast.

map-anchorage (1) weather

A stronger weather system is expected to bring a soaking rain to southcentral as we head into Friday — with rainfall totals of 0.50”-1.00” possible. The combination of the weakening winds, cooler temperatures, higher relative humidity, and rain should greatly improve fire weather conditions. Also, an overall wetter and cooler weather pattern is in the forecast all the way through next week.

Until the winds subside and the rain picks up, Anchorage residents can expect to see and smell smoke.

The Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS) is predicting “Moderate” air quality due to the smoke intrusion. The station in Airport Heights reported moderate readings at 8 a.m. Thursday — still considered safe for most. But that could change at any time. Children, the elderly, and those who suffer from heart or lung conditions should use caution.

Air quality is a measure of the number of pollutants in the air. Regardless of the air quality, the prolonged smell of smoke can cause coughing, scratchy throat, headaches, stinging eyes, chest pain, and many more symptoms.

Bottom line — if you smell smoke in your neighborhood, it’s best to keep the windows closed.

Fire officials want to remind residents that just because there’s smoke in town, it doesn’t mean the fire is headed this way. Sarah Saarloos, Department of Forestry public information officer, told KTVA the wind is pushing the fire toward the tops of ridges where there’s less fuel for the fire to spread.

For the latest Air Quality Index, visit the municipality’s website or call the air quality hotline at 907-343-4899.

KTVA’s Rachael Penton can be reached by email, or on Facebook or Twitter.

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