THE REASON THERE IS SO MUCH SMOKE:
Intense, yellowish gray smoke covered the northeastern United States a second day Wednesday, prompting warnings for people to stay inside and keep doors and windows closed. The smoke is billowing from dozens of wildfires engulfing in several Canadian provinces.
The air quality was in the “unhealthy or worse categories in areas from the mid-Atlantic through the Northeast and parts of the Upper Great Lakes,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency in an update released Wednesday night. U.S. authorities also issued air quality alerts in multiple regions. The smoke was expected to persist for days.
Conditions were especially bad in parts of central New York, where the airborne soot was at hazardous levels. In New York City, officials on Wednesday said everyone should stay indoors. The conditions arrived late Tuesday afternoon, obscuring views of New Jersey across the Hudson River.
A CLOSER LOOK:
The origin of the smoke was unusually hot, dry weather that ultimately gave rise to the fires.
“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, who is also with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“I don’t remember fires of this scale in the last 10 years,” James said.
A warming planet means heat waves will be hotter and longer, making for bigger, smokier fires, according to Joel Thornton, professor and chair of the department of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.
The Quebec-area fires are big and relatively close, about 500 to 600 miles (roughly 800 to 970 kilometers) from Rhode Island and they followed wildfires in Nova Scotia.
Their smoke has been moving into the United States since last month. The most recent fires near Quebec have been burning for at least several days.
A FAR-REACHING PROBLEM:
Strong winds high up in the atmosphere can transport smoke long distances; large, violent fires often create unhealthy conditions hundreds of miles away from where forests are burning.
The right mix of circumstances aligned for the smoke to blanket major U.S. cities: A dry, hot spring set the stage, then weather did the rest, said Bob Henson, meteorologist with Yale Climate Change Connections.
In Canada, air is circulating around a low pressure system near Nova Scotia. “It’s a simple matter of trajectory,” Henson said. “The smoke goes where the wind takes it.”
This wind pattern isn’t particularly rare. But the confluence of events is.
Much of what we see in the air and measure is small particles, or PM 2.5. The worrying thing is that these particles are so small they can get deep into the lungs, where oxygen enters a body’s circulation.
that is less true for a large category of people including children whose lungs are still developing, older adults, and people with lung diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Authorities advise that you stay inside, keeping your doors, windows and fireplaces shut. Use of air conditioning on the recirculation setting can help filter out some particles; air filters can remove many more.
AP Reporters Michael Phillis, Kathy McCormack, David B. Caruso, Deepti Hajela and Ingrid Lobet contributed to this story.