Like the Grinch rushing out of Whoville, the Bay Area's choking smog is gone.
Strong winds over the past two days have dispersed levels of soot in the air that reached record levels earlier this week.
"The weather system that came in blew out all the crud," said Lisa Fasano, a spokeswoman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. "We have what we consider good or healthy air through the Bay Area."
Levels of soot dust and other particles Thursday and Friday had fallen by 75 percent or more in most cities since Tuesday, when a fire in Big Sur, a fire at Sims Metal Management in Redwood City and days of dry, stagnant weather with no rain or wind combined to turn the region's air into a murky mess.
"Thank God. What a great relief," said Dr. Tom Dailey, chief of pulmonary medicine at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Santa Clara. "I was back in the gym this morning spinning. It's safe to exercise. It was just miserable air there."
Ever since Dec. 7, the last time the Bay Area received any significant rainfall, levels of particle pollution -- soot from trucks, buses and construction equipment, road dust, smoke from fireplaces and other fires -- continued to build up over the Bay Area, reaching a peak Tuesday.
It led the air district to call 11 winter Spare-the-Air Days in a row through Wednesday, which banned people from burning wood in fireplaces.
"I had patients telling me that they were having trouble breathing," said Dailey, who noted that high particulate levels in the air can trigger everything from asthma attacks to heart attacks. "Our recommendation was to shelter indoors."
In San Jose, which had the worst air this week, the particulate levels in the air reached 94 micrograms per cubic meter by noon on Tuesday -- nearly three times the federal health standard of 35, and the highest reading in five years. By Thursday, the highest reading was 23 in San Jose, with comparable levels coming in on Friday.
Similarly, San Francisco reached a peak smog level of 70 on Tuesday but enjoyed a healthy high of 11 by Thursday, and Oakland fell from 72 to 8, while Concord dropped from 61 to 22.
But every silver lining has a cloud.
A high pressure system is moving into the Bay Area this weekend. And no rain is forecast for the next week, continuing a record dry 2013, with Bay Area temperatures expected to reach the 60s on most days. That probably means more dry, windless conditions, experts say, and likely no-burn days on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
"We're hoping for the best. We've been dreaming of a wet Christmas," said Fasano. "But it's important to breathe. We don't want anyone to spend their holiday in the emergency room."
Meanwhile, the Big Sur fires are all but out. On Friday morning, the U.S. Forest Service announced that the fire burning on Pfeiffer Ridge, across Highway 1 from the Big Sur Lodge at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, was 93 percent contained after burning 917 acres and destroying 14 homes.
Firefighters were helped by cooler weather and drizzle.
Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/PaulRogersSJMN