New Yorkers were gripped by the worst urban air quality in the world Thursday, and Americans could face days or even weeks of smoky siege from the drifting haze of unrelenting Canadian wildfires.
Hundreds of community parks, ballfields and other outdoor spaces from Canada to North Carolina sat empty as air quality readings in many areas ranged from unhealthy to hazardous. The low-pressure system adrift over Maine and Nova Scotia that has helped funnel the ashen air will probably be “hanging around at least for the next few days,” National Weather Service meteorologist Bryan Ramsey said.
Conditions are likely to remain unhealthy until the wind direction changes or the fires are doused, he said.
“Since the fires are raging, they’re really large, they’re probably going to continue for weeks,” Ramsey said. “It’s really just going be all about the wind shift.”
The good news, AccuWeather reports, is that parts of the Northeast could see modest air quality improvements though the day Thursday, although it will take until Friday or Friday night for significant improvement in some locations. The bad news is some of the most dense smoke may shift west toward Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit, AccuWeather said.
∙The air quality monitoring website iqair.com had New York City at the top of its global list Thursday. Detroit rose as high as third before falling back into the 20s.
∙Friday will be a remote-instruction day for the more than 1 million students attending New York City public schools.
∙Authorities warned residents across much of the Northeast to stay inside and limit or avoid outdoor activities Thursday, extending “Code Red” alerts in some places for a third-straight day
∙Low visibility from the haze forced temporary “ground stops” on all flights out of New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Philadelphia International Airport early Thursday.
Pets can’t wear masks outdoors to protect them from the smoke, but many need to go outdoors. It’s important to keep monitoring their health and try to keep them inside as much as possible, said Dr. Aly Cohen with the Cornell University Riney Canine Health Center. Some breeds of dog, called short-muzzle breeds, already have higher rates of respiratory issues, including bulldogs, Boston terriers and Cavalier King Charles spaniels. Pet birds and horses also are at higher risk, Cohen said.
“Hopefully this won’t be something that lasts forever, but just try and be as mindful as you can and entertain them the best you can indoors,” Cohen said. Read more here.
− Jeanine Santucci
Health experts are urging Americans in areas with air quality warnings to stay indoors and run an air filtration system that will reduce exposure. Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles that can cause harm in multiple ways, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Older adults, pregnant women, young children and people chronic heart and respiratory conditions are more likely to get sick if they breathe in wildfire smoke. But the CDC says even healthy adults can also experience coughing, breathing issues, stinging eyes, scratchy throat, runny nose, irritated sinuses, chest pain, headaches, asthma attacks, fatigue and fast heartbeat. And the American Lung Association says wildfire smoke can be “extremely harmful” to lung health. Read more here.
Wildfire smoke can also harm skin and even prompt “psyciatric conditions,” said Dr. Raj Fadadu, a physician and researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.
“This increase in air pollution is new to many (people),” he said. “Their bodies are confused about what’s happening. Please pay attention to even the slightest things, including a headache, eye redness, and even some itchiness or a rash. … Don’t ignore any symptoms.”
− Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY
Millions of horrified Americans have watched clear blue skies morph into thick orange fogs in recent days. While familiar to many Americans living in the western part of the country, the eerie orange hues have frightened and confounded some in regions of the nation less accustomed to the effects of wildfires.
Smoke particles from the fires allow sunlight’s longer wavelength colors, like red and orange, to pass through while blocking the shorter wavelengths, like yellow, blue and green.
− Grace Hauck
The U.S. Air Quality Index, or AQI, is the Environmental Protection Agency’s tool for communicating daily air quality. It uses color-coded categories to describe air quality, which groups of people may be affected, and steps that can be taken to reduce exposure to air pollution. It’s also used as the basis for air quality forecasts and current air quality reporting. Metro areas with a population of more than 350,000 are required to report the daily AQI, and you can find the daily AQI on AirNow and on state and local agency websites.
State and local air quality experts provide forecasts across the nation. In most areas, AQI forecasts focus on the next day. For ozone, an AQI forecast focuses on the period when average 8-hour ozone concentrations are expected to be the highest. For particulate matter, the forecast predicts the average 24-hour concentration for the next day.
What do the AQI numbers mean?
The AQI is measured on a scale of 0 to 500. The higher the AQI values, the greater the level of air pollution and health concern there is, according AirNow.gov. Conversely, the lower the AQI values, the air quality is more satisfactory and the health risks are lower. A measure of 50 and under represents good air quality. Anything above 300 is considered “hazardous” and will usually prompt a health warning.
The EPA determines the AQI values based on five major air pollutants which are regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particle pollution (also known as particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Read more here.
− Clare Mulroy
More than 400 blazes burning across Canada have left 20,000 people displaced. The U.S. has sent more than 600 firefighters and equipment to Canada. A primary culprit for fouling U.S. air is the 150 fires burning in south-central Quebec, a majority of which were not contained. A stalled high pressure system over the northern Plains and the stationary low pressure system over eastern Canada has produced a “steering” wind from north to south, sending thick plumes of smoke into the Northeast, Middle Atlantic and Ohio Valley, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson said.
The fires are mostly in remote, wooded areas −and since most of Canada’s firefighting focus is on saving homes, the blazes are likely to continue burning into the summer, Anderson said.
“So get used to these episodes of smoke and haze through the summer,” he said.
Unusually hot, dry weather that wouldn’t stop gave rise to the wildfires. Most were ignited by lightning, experts say. A warming planet will produce hotter and longer heat waves, making for bigger, smokier fires, according to Joel Thornton, professor and chair of the department of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.
“The month of May was just off the charts, record warm in much of Canada,” said Eric James, a modeling expert with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science at the University of Colorado. “I don’t remember (Canadian) fires of this scale in the last 10 years.”
An air quality alert remains in effect for New Jersey through Thursday night. It is forecast to drop on Thursday from a red alert, which means it’s unhealthy for the general population, to an orange alert – unhealthy for sensitive groups.
“We’re looking at this staying with us to some degree Thursday and into Friday,” said National Weather Service meteorologist John Cristantello.
–Scott Fallon, northjersey.com
One million N95 filtering masks will be made available across New York state Thursday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said. More than 400,000 will be distributed to New Yorkers at subway and bus stations and state parks, with another 600,000 made available for local governments to pick up and distribute.
“You don’t need to go out and take a walk. You don’t need to push the baby in the stroller,” Hochul said Wednesday night. “This is not a safe time to do that.”
Contributing: The Associated Press