An unwelcome haze hangs over New York City, as smoke from Canadian wildfires continues to sweep down across the East Coast and even some of the Midwest — where it may well serve as a portent of climate woes to come.
The haze's looming presence has severely affected the city's air quality, with a smell of smoke in the air and an air quality index (AQI) of around 170 on Wednesday morning, according to AirNow.gov. That puts the pollution at "unhealthy" levels, meaning that everyone should limit their exposure outdoors, if possible.
For a frame of reference, that AQI is, according to IQAir's metrics, some of the worst in the world, only behind cities like New Delhi, and joined by other hard-hit US locales like Detroit and Washington D.C.
Seeing the writing on the wall — or the smog in the sky — NYC's Department of Education announced that it would be canceling all outdoor activities for the day.
But New Yorkers probably don't need an index for them to know just how bad the air is. A few minute's languid walk outside spent breathing the smoggy air in would be ample indication.
And even iron-lunged commuters wouldn't be able to ignore the pervading orange-gray that washes out the city's skyline and turns the Sun a Cormac McCarthy blood red.
Maybe the worst air quality New York City has seen in a long time as a smokey haze shrouds the sun as it rises behind midtown Manhattan and the Empire State Building, Tuesday #newyorkcity #nyc #newyork #haze @EmpireStateBldg @agreatbigcity #sunrise pic.twitter.com/e1Aw5XIFxB
— Gary Hershorn (@GaryHershorn) June 6, 2023
Feeling the Heat
In Canada, the locus of the smoke, over 400 wildfires continue to raze the countryside, the worst of it in the Quebec province. With over 8 million acres of land burned as of Sunday, Canadian officials have warned that this wildfire season is on track to be the country's worst ever, Reuters reports.
According to experts, climate change is one of the driving factors behind the blaze, bringing historically high heat which intensifies the burning.
"Over the last 20 years, we have never seen such a large area burned so early in the season," Yan Boulanger, a researcher at Natural Resources Canada, told Reuters. "Partially because of climate change, we're seeing trends toward increasing burned area throughout Canada."
Considering that temperatures will only continue to climb, this unprecedented health hazard for East Coasters, who are unaccustomed to wildfire smoke unlike their West Coast cousins, may become less of an alarming anomaly and more of a recurring event. Worsening wildfires on the opposite coast are already believed to be sullying the country's air quality.
Worse yet, the smoke isn't currently expected to clear especially soon. Bryan Ramsey, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in New York state, told The New York Times that the haze is "going to be here for a while," and may last through next week.
In the meantime, James MacDonald, the state's acting health commissioner, has warned New Yorkers to "limit strenuous outdoor activity."
"People who are especially sensitive to the effects of elevated levels of pollutants, including the very young and those with pre-existing respiratory problems such as heart disease or asthma, should avoid spending time outdoors, if possible," he added.
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