When to expect air quality to improve in the US amid wildfires in Canada

By | June 7, 2023

Canadian wildfires are sweeping states as far away as Georgia, with New York City experiencing some of the worst air quality in the world.

Wind conditions that are carrying smoke plumes south are expected to last for several more days, experts say, as some wildfires in Canada continue to burn out of control.

PHOTO: In a view toward Brooklyn, boats maneuver the East River near the Manhattan Bridge, left, and the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, June 7, 2023.

In a view toward Brooklyn boats maneuver the East River near the Manhattan Bridge, left, and the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, June 7, 2023.

Alyssa Goodman/AP

The smoke is mainly from several wildfires burning in Quebec that are being driven south in a narrow band by an intense storm system around Nova Scotia that hasn’t moved in several days, according to Mark Wysocki, an air pollution forecaster who teaches at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

“The smoke plumes from these fires, as they go up, will all be concentrated in a very narrow type of river, and they will be carried south right through us,” Wysocki told ABC News. “The problem is, there’s no chance for the pollutants to disperse. They’ll just be held together in a high concentration.”

“As long as you’re under that plume, you’re going to have the highest amount,” he continued.

PHOTO: A smoky haze from wildfires in Canada blankets a neighborhood, June 7, 2023, in the Bronx, New York.

A haze of smoke from wildfires in Canada blankets a neighborhood, June 7, 2023, in the Bronx, New York.

David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

New York City shattered its record for the highest air quality index since records began in 1999 on Wednesday, as skies turned an eerie orange. The city approached 500 on the AQI Wednesday night, which placed it in the worst category — dangerous — on the U.S. government’s air quality tracker.

“We’re in a very unusual situation here because we have significant wildfires going on in eastern Canada, which isn’t as common as having those kinds of fires happening in western North America where the climate is drier. So that’s unusual in itself,” Tony Broccoli, a professor of atmospheric science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, told ABC News. “And we also have a particularly persistent weather pattern that is carrying the smoke from those wildfires south into the northeastern part of the United States.”

“Both of those things are unusual individually; to have them happening at the same time is very unusual,” she continued.

Wysocki and Broccoli said wind conditions carrying the smoke south should change by the end of the week. As the intense storm over Nova Scotia gradually shifts to the northeast, winds will begin to shift over parts of Ontario where wildfires aren’t as large, Wysocki said.

“This should improve our air quality down here, at least in the northeast,” he said.

Until then, officials in far southern Georgia are advising residents to watch out for poor air quality conditions as wildfires in Canada burn.

More than 400 fires are currently active across Canada, with nearly 240 considered out of control, Canadian officials said Wednesday.

Current projections show there will be “above normal” fire activity across Canada during the 2023 wildfire season due to warm temperatures and dry, drier conditions, according to Natural Resources of Canada.

PHOTO: The Olympic Stadium as Montreal is enveloped in smog, June 6, 2023, in Montreal, Canada.

The Montreal Olympic Stadium is enveloped in smog, June 6, 2023, in Montreal, Canada.

Andrei Ivanov/AFP via Getty Images

“Our models show that this could be a particularly severe bushfire season throughout the summer,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference earlier this week.

It’s too early to predict whether windy conditions will lead to parts of the United States seeing a repeat of the current prolonged, poor air quality conditions during fire season, Broccoli said. There could also be fast-moving storms that affect air quality for only a few hours, Wysocki said.

However, smoke will continue to be a concern this summer from the Great Lakes area to the Northeast as wildfires burn in remote and hard-to-reach areas in Canada, according to Wysocki.

“It’s not exactly a good situation we’re in this summer,” Wysocki said. “There is no end in sight for these [fires] be put out”.

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