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Wildfire Smoke Blankets the Northeast

If you’ve gone outside recently, or even simply glanced out your window, you’ve seen the hazy smoke blanketing New York and much of the northeast this week. Smoke from hundreds of wildfires in eastern Canada has drifted south, triggering air quality alerts all the way from Minnesota to Massachusetts (1).

This wildfire smoke is just one instance of how changes in our climate can directly effect us today. Often we think about climate change or global warming as something which will effect the future -something which hasn’t started yet- however, climate change can be seen today in worsening of weather conditions and natural disasters. The conditions which have caused these extreme wildfires early in wildfire season for Canada will continue to effect more of our lives unless we continue making changes to help the environment.

Is Climate Change Happening Before our Eyes?

Smoke over New York

Millions of Residents in the eastern U.S. are currently facing unhealthy air quality conditions as smoke from Canadian wildfires sweeps over much of the country. New York City’s air quality rating (AQI) briefly ranked as the worst of any city in the world on Tuesday June 6th (1). As we can see in the current air quality conditions in New York State, the effects of wildfires aren’t limited to just the area of the fire (6). Much of the northeastern U.S. is far from the original fires in Canada, and yet we are still experiencing the effects. 

New York is currently experiencing the worst effects from wildfires in over two decades. Air conditions have not been this bad since smoke from Canadian wildfires swept across the state in 2002, stated Margaret LaFarr, Assistant Director of the Division of Air Resources at the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) (5).

With unhealthy air quality conditions across the northeast, there are things we can do to help limit the effects on our health while this smoke passes over. With the current conditions spiking to be categorized as unhealthy levels for all individuals, limiting your exposure to the polluted air is best. Simply shutting all windows and doors at home can help cut pollutants getting into your home by about 30% (1). 

New York’s air quality rating has more than tripled its average normal rating in certain areas of the state as a result. On average, air quality in the Capital Region has fluctuated around the green (good) rating, between 0-50 as an AQI value (7). As a result of the smokey haze from the wildfires, the AQI has generally fluctuated around the orange (unhealthy for sensitive groups) and red (unhealthy) ratings, between 101-200 on the AQI scale. For select regions of the state, we’ve even reached levels indicated as hazardous as seen on the map below.

wildfire smoke over Albany from Canadian WIldfires
Wildfires in Canada cause smokey haze over Albany - timesunion.com (5)
AQI Ratings Across the Northeast 6/7/2023 - fire.airnow.gov (7)
Air Quality Index - airnow.gov (7)

Wildfires in Canada

Canada is currently experiencing one of the worst starts to its wildfire season ever recorded (4). On Tuesday June 6th, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center, there were more than 400 active wildfires burning in Canada, over 200 of which were burning out of control (1). 

Looking at this start to the year’s wildfire season in Canada, in this past May alone, Canada saw more than 6.5 billion acres burned in wildfires. This is compared to the average 370,000 acres burned previous Mays (2). Canada’s Minister of Emergency Preparedness, Bill Blair, stated, “these conditions this early in the season are unprecedented” as we continue further into wildfire season.

Record heat has been observed in much of eastern Canada and the U.S. and it doesn’t seem to be lessening anytime soon (2). Climate change continues to increase this extreme heat and drought, creating conditions for wildfires to thrive. 

Wildfires in Canada cause smoke
Wildfires in Eastern Canada - theguardian.com (8)

Impacts of Climate Change

This spike in wildfires in Canada, worsened by record heat in many areas, is a clear sign of the effects of climate change. These influences are certainly not confined to Canada. Much of the eastern U.S. has felt, and still is experiencing, the effects of these Canadian wildfires. 

Wildfires do occur naturally and have a vital role in maintaining the health of ecosystems in certain areas, such as parts of Canada, however big changes in these wildfires can be extremely harmful (3). Many studies have already shown how climate change has led to an increase in wildfire season length, frequency of wildfires, and the acreage burned (3). Increased temperatures, and drought caused by climate change also threatens to worsen wildfires. Drastic changes in the natural pattern of events, such as wildfires, results in harmful conditions for humans and the environment of that area.

One major indicator of climate change is changes at high latitudes, such as near the poles. These areas generally experience the effects of global warming or other atmospheric changes sooner. Extreme, persistent warmth at these high latitudes can be seen recently, indicating global warming in these areas (2). These high pressure zones bringing heat and drought will likely continue to effect the northeast as we move into summer. Multiple factors of climate change, such as this heat, have already impacted this wildfire season so far despite it only being early June. Events such as this smokey haze over the northeast should remind us of what is occurring in the world. These wildfires are a peak into our future if we don’t continue to push for and make changes. Steps are being taken to help limit the effects of climate change, however it takes everyone to help make a change. 

Is climate change already in our backyard? Smokey haze from increased wildfires is just a piece of the effects. As the world moves forwards and works to stop climate change and move to more clean energy sources, you can do your part. Going solar is a great way to help the environment and save money too!

Do your part and help the environment today!