Worst air quality in 20 years grips New York City, creates apocalyptic-looking skyline
The famous New York City skyline disappeared on Wednesday afternoon as smoke from the Canadian wildfires continued to flow into the region. In the most impacted areas, breathing smoke-filled air is equivalent to smoking 5-10 cigarettes.
Skies across the northeastern United States were orange and hazy as smoke from wildfires burning in Canada swept into the region on June 6.
Hazy skies, the fiery, red sun, and the smell of smoke caught the attention of residents from Maryland to New England on Tuesday. The air quality spiked to very unhealthy levels across the Northeast on Wednesday morning as wildfire smoke from Canada poured into the region.
On Wednesday morning, the famous New York City skyline once again disappeared behind a hazy veil. Photos and videos shared on social media captured the eerie glow of the sun as it rose above some of the most famous skyscrapers in the Big Apple.
“Took this on my roof [Tuesday]. Looked apocalyptic,” one Twitter user wrote.
Due to the high concentration of smoke, lights were turned on at Yankee Stadium to illuminate the stadium when the first pitch was thrown between the Yankees and Chicago White Sox.
But it wasn’t just New York City that was enclosed in a blanket of smoke. Cities and towns from Maryland to New Hampshire reported low visibility and hazy skies.
“View of the skyline [Tuesday night]. No filter, pure smoke,” another Twitter user wrote.
The smell of smoke was so strong in parts of Pennsylvania that emergency responders received an influx of 911 calls on Tuesday night, ABC6 reported.
While the smoke created jaw-dropping scenes across the Northeast Tuesday morning, it has also prompted a large swath of air quality alerts.
“Smoke is made of gases and particles, the same pollutants which are responsible for poor air quality,” Dr. Boris Quennehen, an air quality scientist with Plume Labs, said.
As the smoke is forecast to continue spreading across parts of the East this week, air quality alerts have been issued along a nearly 850-mile-long path from South Carolina to Vermont.
“As bad as the smoke and air pollution was on Tuesday, the air quality was even worse at times across parts of the Northeast on Wednesday and poor air quality is expected to linger in some areas into the weekend,” AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jonathan Porter said.
This alert means air pollution concentration in the region will be unhealthy for people with heart or lung disease, children, and adults over 65. The alert warned these people to limit their time outdoors.
“Exposure to elevated levels of fine particles such as wood smoke can increase the likelihood of respiratory symptoms in sensitive individuals and aggravate heart or lung disease,” the National Weather Service alert said.
Air quality was listed as “very unhealthy” in Wilmington, Delaware, on Wednesday morning. (AccuWeather)
As of early Wednesday morning, some of the worst air quality levels were found in Delaware. Wilmington, Delaware, which is located about 24 miles southwest of Philadelphia, spiked an air quality index (AQI) of 199, which is considered “very unhealthy.” AccuWeather forecasters expect “very unhealthy" levels to continue through the rest of the week.
The air quality in New York City was listed as “unhealthy” as of Wednesday morning. The haze across the city reduced significantly reduced visibility. Many weather stations in the Big Apple reported visibility of less than a mile.
A ground stop was issued at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and LaGuardia Airport in New York City on Wednesday afternoon due to low visibility from the smoke and haze, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The AccuWeather Air Quality forecast for New York City is listed as “unhealthy” for Wednesday. (AccuWeather)
On Tuesday evening, the air quality levels in the Big Apple spiked to "very unhealthy" levels.
CNN reported that the air quality in New York City was the worst in the world Tuesday morning. The city’s air pollution levels were the second worst in the world Tuesday evening.
As accurately forecast by AccuWeather, air quality rapidly worsened in the corridor from the New York City area to Eastern Pennsylvania late Tuesday, with some air quality observation sites appearing to report their highest concentration of harmful particulate pollution in the air since 1999.
“To underscore the health impacts - based on available research, AccuWeather estimates that breathing the polluted air in the worst impacted areas of the Northeast for several hours can result in breathing in the same level of harmful air as smoking 5-10 cigarettes,” Porter said.
While the levels of smoke are likely to vary into the weekend, there is some hope for substantial improvement in air quality as a storm with the potential for drought-easing rain shifts from the Midwest to the Northeast by early next week.
The unusually poor air quality in the Northeast is “extremely rare in modern times,” according to Porter and is like the levels of air pollution frequently observed in other parts of the world without the same air pollution standards and restrictions, including China, India, Southeast Asia, and even into South America.
As a result, New York City Major Eric Adams urged all residents on Tuesday night to limit outdoor activities this week. Adams said New York City public schools will remain open but “not offer any outdoor activities on Wednesday.”
Two photos of the World Trade Center in New York City. (EarthCam)
New Jersey officials urged residents to limit their time outside due to the poor air quality. For those who must work outside, the state recommended that people wear an N95 mask, News12 New Jersey reported. Additionally, several schools in New Jersey canceled recess and other outdoor activities, due to the air quality across the state.
“People should frequently check the AccuWeather exclusive Plume Labs air quality maps and limit their time outdoors,” said Porter, who recommended that if one must spend time outside, to use a high-quality N95 or KN95 mask. “Sleeping with the windows closed and using an air conditioner or fan can be helpful,” he said, adding that a HEPA filter can reduce the number of these small particles in the air.
Farther north, in Syracuse, New York, the haze from the wildfire smoke significantly reduced visibility on Tuesday. As of 12 p.m. EDT Tuesday, the Syracuse Hancock International Airport reported a visibility of only 1.75 miles, due to the overcast and hazy skies, according to data from the NWS.
A map of the air quality across the Northeast on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. (AccuWeather)
AccuWeather forecasters say the wildfire season in Canada got off to a devastatingly early start. As of early June, more than 8 million acres of land have been scorched by wildfires across Canada, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC). The CIFFC was tracking more than 400 active fires across the nation Monday.
“Intense wildfires have been burning in Alberta, Canada, for more than a month now. Depending on the weather conditions, the smoke from these wildfires can be transported on very large distances, in different directions and at different altitudes,” Quennehen said. “Denver, Colorado, [was] impacted by smoke from the Canadian wildfires two weeks ago and now it’s the northeast U.S.”
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