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Wildfire smoke could be the ‘new norm’ during summers in Washington

Air quality experts say we need to adjust to the reality that smoky conditions could become an ongoing summer phenomenon in Washington state.

Health officials and air quality specialists are urging people to prepare for what could be another smoky summer. They said hazy skies could become the new normal as hotter, drier summers spark more fires.

“This is a new thing that we're going to have to start thinking about now as part of our regular seasonal thing. This is perhaps the new norm,” said Phil Swartzendruber, air quality scientist with Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

Swartzendruber was among several air quality experts who recently gathered to prepare for another smoky summer.

RELATED: 5 ways to prepare for wildfire smoke this summer

Officials used to primarily issue alerts for unhealthy air in the winter. But that changed in 2017 as wildfire smoked choked Washington state during the summer, and then again last year. Swartzendruber warned this could become a pattern.

“We want to be ready," he said. "We would encourage everyone to be prepared and think that it might very well happen again this year."

Wildfire smoke can cause a range of health problems from burning eyes and a runny nose, to more serious symptoms for people with heart and lung diseases, according to the EPA.

Specific masks and respirators will work better than a bandana to block smoke particles. Stores sold out of N-95 rated respirator masks last year, so now might be a good time to buy a few. 

The same goes for air filters as they were hard to find when the smoke moved in because everyone suddenly wanted one. HEPA air filters can reduce smoke particles.

Also see | This DIY air filter for wildfire smoke is less than $20

If you have asthma or breathing problems, talk with your doctor about how to prepare.

Puget Sound Clean Air Agency says the next few weeks look clear, but with wildfire season in its opening act, that could change quickly.

Click here to check Puget Sound air quality.

Click here to check statewide air quality levels.

WATCH: What different air quality levels mean