At sunrise this morning, visitors to New York City’s Central Park noticed something that looked amiss: high up in the air above the lush urban oasis the sky was awash in an infernal-looking haze, the sun a sinister shade of reddish orange.
Smoke from dozens of large wildfires now ablaze in the western United States has made it to the East Coast—and scientists expect it to stick around for a while.
“For today we are definitely in a pretty thick batch of smoke that traveled all the way from the West,” meteorologist Maria LaRosa told morning viewers of NBC New York. A big weather pattern is carrying with it smoke from wildfires burning huge areas of the Pacific Northwest, she explained. “And there is a lot of it.”
After weeks of searing heat, the western US is erupting in fierce wildfires so strong the smoke is visible on the East Coast in cities such as New York and Washington, DC. https://t.co/rPgr4dNv3I
— NBC News (@NBCNews) July 20, 2021
A smoke model from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a vast curtain of smoke particles covering all of New York City and the entire Northeastern U.S.
After an unseasonable heat wave earlier this month, wildfires are now burning huge swathes of Oregon, California, and Washington.
The Bootleg Fire in Oregon—at present, the largest of at least 70 large wildfires—has already burned an area larger than the city of Los Angeles. In California, the Tamarack Fire south of Lake Tahoe now covers more than 20,000 acres. One satellite image from the National Weather Service shows smoke billowing up as high as 25,000 feet above the Earth.
A milky haze is now marring the summer skies over the Big Apple, where scientists expected it to remain for days, even weeks.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation issued an Air Quality Alert for New York City, Long Island, and the lower Hudson Valley from 10 a.m. to midnight. In the morning, flights departing for western states were being delayed due to “low visibility,” according to the Federal Aviation Administration. New Yorkers are being encouraged to to reduce time spent outside if they are feeling symptoms such as difficulty breathing or throat irritation.
As of 10 a.m. Pacific time, New York’s measure of fine particles in the air associated with the wildfires—known as PM2.5 concentration—was seven times above the World Health Organization’s exposure recommendation, according to data from the website IQAir. Exposure can result in coughing or difficulty breathing, aggravated asthma, and the development of chronic respiratory disease.
By midday, the sky above New York City was recast in an opaque gray. The air quality index was an “unhealthy” 160, tied for the worst air quality of any major city in the world, along with Lima, Peru, and Kolkata, India. Smoke and haze from the western wildfires will filter sunshine in New York throughout the day, the state weather service says.
Only a cold front expected to settle over New York tomorrow will give the city some breathing room. But the smoke above is expected to return and remain a problem for as long as the West Coast fires rage on.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food, news, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.