California is no stranger to smoky orange skies caused by wildfires, but this week the East Coast woke up to a similar, hazy picture.
“I was surprised at first, and the novelty of a different colored sky and sun was cool,” senior and New Jersey resident Jacob Amalraj said.
The culprit is wildfire smoke from our neighbors above.
According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center, there are currently more than 400 active wildfires across Canada, over 200 of which are considered “out of control” and around 150 are in the region of Quebec, bordering the Northeast.
A storm system off the coast of Nova Scotia coupled with an atmospheric swirl has sent much of the haze from those wildfires into the U.S., causing the air quality index (AQI) in many cities to rise. As of Tuesday evening, New York City had the worst rating in the world. According to AirNow.gov, New York City had an AQI score of 333 today. Values over 300 are considered hazardous.
“It’s so hard to be outside. There is a distinct smell to it,” Amalraj said.
Recent graduate and fellow New Jersey resident Jason Lopez agreed.
“It feels like someone’s just burning, right next to you or something,” Lopez said.
AirNow.gov reports in other parts of the East Coast, Philadelphia had an AQI score of 269. Values over 200 are considered very unhealthy. Washington D.C. came in at 160. Values over 150 are labeled unhealthy.
While everyone is at risk when there is poor air quality, children, the elderly and those with respiratory conditions are at the most risk.
“I have asthma, so I [would] rather not risk the chance,” Lopez said. “But some of my family members went outside like my sister had to go to school today, and when she came back, she was like, ‘It’s a bit difficult to breathe in this sort of sense.’ But for the little instances that I had been outside, I can definitely smell smoke.”
Over a dozen states have issued air quality alerts reaching all the way to the Carolinas. These alerts include warnings to stay indoors, keep windows closed and wear high-quality masks (such as KN95 or N95) if you have to travel outside.
“They’ve made it clear that even being outside for a little [bit] can be very dangerous, so I’ve decided to hole up in my home,” Amalraj said.
The smog blanketing much of the East Coast has caused other problems. Visibility has been reduced, causing the Federal Aviation Administration to slow flights at major airports in New York, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia.
There is no clear timetable on how long the smoke and air quality will last, with conditions expected to worsen over the next few days.