An Orange Day in San Fransisco

It happened. It really did.

Fire Season, California 2020

It was September 9, 2020 in San Fransisco, deep into California’s Fire Season 🔥☁️💨. For those who do not remember, California’s 2020 Fire Season saw some of the worst conflagrations across the entire state in recent memory.

Cal Fire’s 2020 Archive page maps fires that happened across the state and the archive runs into 26 pages, totaling 258 fires that happened during 2020 ranging from 1,032,648 acres to 2 acres. Wikipedia lists about 74 fires in California in the year 2020 (ranging from 1,032,648-to-705 acres).


For me personally, I saw the smoke start to engulf a California-blue sky on a late evening in August (the 18th), and turned the sun red.

August 18, 2020 // San Mateo, CA // Left: 6:46pm; Right: 6:59pm

These pictures were brought to you by the CZU Lightning Complex — fires triggered in the San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties by a lightning storm. Eventually the SCU Lightning Complex (again, triggered by the same lighting storm) contributed to the smoke across the Bay Area.

The fact that all of this was happening in the middle of a pandemic was a detail — a footnote if you will (or if were to allow footnotes).

And in the middle of this entire drama, we witnessed some of the worst spikes in temperatures — stating the obvious, but the struggle was real. This was also when I relented and started adding ice to my espressos 😱

When the skies go B̵l̵u̵e̵ Orange

The skylight in my apartment on August 9, 2020.

In the middle of this fiery and smoky mayhem that choked an entire state and displaced many people from their homes 🏡🔥, something unusual happened.

Every day, the AQI (air quality index) would be hitting purple, i.e. BAD. For exactly one day, it went green, i.e., GOOD.

But when I opened the window, the world was orange. All orange. It was as if reality was distorted. While the AQI was green, telling me that the air was clean and breathable, the skies told me that something was wrong.

And to be clear: it wasn’t only an orange sky, it was more like there as a sepia filter that nature had applied on the real world:

Views from my apartment: Left: Sep 1, 2020 (smoky); Right: Sep 9, 2020 (sepia) // No filters applied on these pictures … this is all natural.

How did this happen?

The way I understand it, there was a flux of fog from the Pacific Ocean (remember, this is called the Bay Area for a reason). This fog created a blanket that prevented the smoke from reaching the surface (earth’s) — which kept the AQI under control and gave us breathable air for one day. But this also created a thick layer of fog and smoke in the atmosphere over the Bay Area that diffused sun light — permitting only the longer wavelengths of light (think red/orange) to reach the surface, thus creating a natural sepia filter.

It was a dark (physically) and gloomy (emotionally) day.

We went back to smoky, grey skies the next day. And oddly enough, that felt “normal”. It was a day when I learned that even gloomy has different gradations: regular, dark, really dark and wierd.

A timelapse of the orange skies
A timelapse:

I have a time lapse of the skies from that day, which I keep going back to every now and then to remind myself that it was not a dream, no matter how nightmarish it felt like. This write-up also serves that function:

it reminds me that it happened, it really did happen.




researcher • software • program analysis . debugging • UCI • blogger • software visualizations • Microsoft • Views my own •

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Vijay Krishna Palepu

Vijay Krishna Palepu

researcher • software • program analysis . debugging • UCI • blogger • software visualizations • Microsoft • Views my own •

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