Thick wildfire smoke has turned New York’s skies an eerie blood red – as if millions of its inhabitants had suddenly been transported to Mars.
The smoke comes from nearly 150 wildfires burning in Quebec, Canada, many of which were started by a series of lightning strikes.
An estimated 100 million people are affected by unhealthy air and are urged to stay indoors to avoid fine particle pollution in their lungs.
Flights along the East Coast were temporarily blocked due to cloudy skies and led to the postponement of a New York Yankees baseball game on Wednesday night.
The smoke from Canada is being pushed into the United States by a low pressure system that is not expected to subside for several days. In the meantime, several agencies are urging people of all ages to avoid being outdoors, but especially those with respiratory problems and older people who are at increased risk of heart attack or stroke. .
Wildfire smoke swirling around an upper level low over New England is pictured in the smoke forecast for today. Hazardous air quality levels are predicted for much of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, including major metropolitan areas along the I-95 corridor. https://t.co/nCd0zl3kwi pic.twitter.com/kt451APVdd
— UW-Madison CIMSS (@UWCIMSS) June 8, 2023
Been there, done that
While an anomaly for the East, western states like Utah know all too well the choking smoke from wildfires and the unhealthy conditions it brings with its fine particulate pollution. .
As recently as last month, Utah was among the western states hit by smoke due to wildfires burning in Alberta.
It’s starting to be a common occurrence in the West, with smoke from wildfires filling an area, leaving regulators and residents powerless to stop it and bearing the adverse health effects of high PM2.5 levels. , or pollution by fine particles.
In August 2020, 43 million people in the West were having their lungs knocked out by smoke from wildfires and Utah regularly suffers from notoriously high levels of fine particulate pollution in the winter with its inversions.
Bo Call, head of the Utah Air Quality Division’s monitoring section, observed what’s happening with the smoke from the Canadian wildfires in the East.
“I guess, you know, maybe we shouldn’t feel so smug now that they’ve had a taste of what we get most years,” he said. “I thought it looked pretty bad there, but we have winters that look so bad and it still didn’t make national headlines.”
The smoke from wildfires that arrives in your neighborhood depends on wind and other weather elements. Call said a year there were fires in states surrounding Utah, but it never blew that way. Another year, smoke from forest fires in Siberia entered the state.
There is little to prevent a wildfire smoke attack if the weather is driving.
“Forest fires, by their very nature, are unplanned. You don’t know they’re going to happen,” he said. “You know, you can back things off from the quarterback and say, well, we should have done this or that. But really, how can you plan an event that sets things on fire and, weather permitting, blows all the smoke away from you? »
The sun can also amplify the appearance of smog, Call said, making it look worse than it actually is in terms of air pollution readings. He cited cases in Utah where summer smog looked horrible, but monitors didn’t pick up any extraordinarily high readings.
“I feel bad for all the millions of people in New York in this area who are suffering from you know these very high numbers,” he said. “We’ve seen these kinds of numbers come our way.”
A national study has shown that wildfire smoke, which accelerates ozone formation, has contributed up to 50% of PM2.5 in recent years in the West, undermining gains made under the Clean Air Act.
At the time, study co-author Deepti Singh, an assistant professor in Washington state, said heavy pollution events require people to prepare, but it’s a daunting task due to the extent of the pollution.
“If there’s such a large area that’s affected by this air pollution, it really limits where people can go to escape these conditions,” she said in a post about the study.
Health officials and regulators stress that, like the West, which is more accustomed to smoke from wildfires, affected residents in the eastern and central United States should take it seriously and stay inside.