Smoke and haze conditions are slowly easing over parts of the US, including Chicago, as raging Canadian wildfires warn many.
Hundreds of wildfires are burning in western provinces as far as Quebec.
The fire in the Quebec area is large and relatively close, between 500 and 600 miles (about 800 to 970 km) from Rhode Island and about 1,000 miles from Chicago. and wildfires in Nova Scotia, resulting in a short-term air quality alert on May 30.
Where is the smog hitting in the United States?
Wildfires are turning parts of the Northeast US and Midwest into a dystopian haze, howling the air, turning skies yellow and advising vulnerable populations to stay indoors.
Foggy conditions and smoke from wildfires were reported in the Great Lakes region from Cleveland to Buffalo.
A smoky haze that hung over New York City for much of Tuesday thickened in the afternoon, obscuring views of New Jersey across the Hudson River and making the setting sun look like a reddish orb. In the Philadelphia area, evening brought more lavender haze.
In the Chicago area, high ozone levels, combined with smoke from wildfires, prompted air quality alerts and cloudy skies on Monday. By Wednesday, the smoke had reduced from dense to moderate over the city and suburbs.
But on the other side of the east coast, the thick smog remained. Images posted to social media on Wednesday showed a heavy smoke envelope over Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, where the White Sox are scheduled to play tonight.
What’s happening in the Chicago area?
According to the National Weather Service, air quality levels in the Chicago area have fluctuated due to the wildfires.
“This has been caused by a combination of ground-level ozone and particulates/smoke, although this varies from day to day,” the NWS said in a tweet.
An “air quality action day” was issued for parts of northwestern Indiana on Wednesday, citing “increased levels of ozone,” beginning at 1:00 p.m. ET. The alert remains in effect until midnight Thursday for Lake, Porter, Newton and Jasper counties.
“Ozone levels are expected to be at unhealthy levels for sensitive groups,” the alert said.
Earlier this week, officials urged anyone with chronic respiratory illnesses to limit their time outside.
How dangerous is it?
The US Environmental Protection Agency said cloudy skies, reduced visibility and the smell of burning wood are likely, with smoke persisting in northern states for a few days.
“It’s not unusual for us to have fire smoke in our area. It’s very typical in the context of northwest Canada,” said Darren Austin, meteorologist and senior air quality specialist for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. But generally, the smoke has stayed in the air and hasn’t affected people’s health, he said.
Air quality alerts are triggered by several factors, including the detection of fine particulate pollution, known as “PM 2.5,” which can irritate the lungs.
“We have defenses in our upper airways to trap larger particles and prevent them from reaching the lungs. It’s a great way to overcome those defenses,” said Dr. David Hill, a pulmonologist in Waterbury, Connecticut, and a member of the American Lung Association National Board of Directors. “When those particles reach the respiratory site, they cause an inflammatory response in the body.”
Atmospheric conditions in the upper Midwest that create hot, dry weather make it possible for tiny particles to travel hundreds of miles from Canadian wildfires and linger for days, said Trent Ford, state climatologist in Illinois.
“This is a good example of how complex the climate system is, but also how connected it is,” Ford said.
Exposure to high levels of fine particulate pollution can affect the lungs and heart.
Air quality alerts alert “vulnerable groups,” a broad category that includes children, older adults and people with lung diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“Children are more susceptible to secondhand smoke for a number of reasons,” said Laura Kate Bender, national associate vice president of the Lung Association for Healthy Air. “With their lungs still developing, they breathe in more air per unit of body weight.”
What is an Air Quality Alert?
Air quality is monitored using a number of factors, which determine the “Air Quality Index” that is used by the Environmental Protection Agency.
According to AirNow, where the index is reported, “the higher the AQI value, the higher the level of air pollution and the greater the health concerns.” “For example, an AQI value of 50 or less represents good air quality, while an AQI value over 300 represents hazardous air quality.”
Values above 100 are considered unhealthy, especially for sensitive groups of people. But as the level increases, so does the risk.
You can check the air quality level for your area using this interactive online map.
Here are the guidelines:
How long can the smoke last?
Jay Engle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service based in Upton, Long Island, said the wind that brought smoke and haze conditions to the New York City area could continue for the next few days. Of course, he said, the main driver of the conditions is the fire itself. If they subside, so will the haze.
“Eva”, that’s what they call the robotic help at the Atardesar Acapulcano restaurant that serves diners.
What can you do for now?
Small particles of wildfire smoke can irritate the eyes, nose and throat and affect the heart and lungs, making breathing difficult. Health agencies say it is important to limit outdoor activities as much as possible to avoid breathing in these particles. You should avoid particularly strenuous activities such as jogging, as wheezing will increase the amount of smoke you inhale. This also applies to pets, as animals are also affected by smoky conditions.
When you’re inside, keep doors, windows, and chimneys closed to keep smoke out. If you have a portable air purifier or HVAC system, turn it on to help keep the air clean, recommends the Environmental Protection Agency. Check that your filters are of high quality and up to date. Make sure air filters or air conditioners are set to re-circulate indoor air to prevent outside fumes from entering. If you have a window air conditioner, check that it seals as tightly as possible to the window. And try to avoid activities that add more particles to the air in your home, such as smoking, burning candles, or roasting meat.
If you go outside and there are smoky conditions, consider wearing a mask like an N95 to protect your lungs. The mask should fit snugly over the nose and under the chin, and seal tightly to the face to prevent smoky air from entering.
Know your risk
Some groups need to be very careful because they face increased risks from wildfire smoke. Children and older adults are especially sensitive to smoking conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with health problems that affect the lungs or heart, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, face a higher risk from poor air quality. People in these groups should take extra precautions and watch for symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath or fatigue.