Deja Vu: Canadian Wildfire Smoke Affects Air Quality In Over A Dozen States

A satellite image of the United States on Monday morning

      A view of the city as smoke from wildfires in Canada shrouds sky on June 30, 2023, in New York City, United States. Canadian wildfires smoke creating a dangerous haze as the air quality index reaches 160 in New York City. (Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Millions of people across the central and eastern United States may experience deja vu when heading outside early this week, as the blue summer sky has once again been transformed by Canadian wildfire smoke.

A satellite image of the United States on Monday morning. Wildfire smoke could be seen from the northern Plains to the Appalachian Mountains. (NOAA/GOES-EAST)

Air quality alerts have been issued for all of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire and Ohio, and portions of Michigan, Indiana, Massachusetts, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana. Smoke was more expansive than the warnings, with a hazy sky extending as far south as Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

Cleveland was one of the major cities across the Midwest where smoke shrouded the skyline Monday morning. The air quality in the city reached an “unhealthy” level with an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 133 and visibility was reduced to under 4 miles.

Images of the smoky Cleveland skyline on July 17, compared to a smoke-free day on June 26. (EarthCam)

Chicago, Atlanta and Indianapolis were also experiencing “unhealthy” air quality due to the wildfire smoke. At the same time, Pittsburgh reported “very unhealthy” air quality, according to Plume Labs data Monday morning.

The air quality in New York City was “poor” with an AQI of 53 Monday morning, but spiked to an “unhealthy” 114 by Monday afternoon.

When the AQI is over 100, sensitive groups may experience health effects immediately, and even healthy individuals could experience difficulty breathing and throat irritation after prolonged exposure.

As has been the case over the past two months, the polluted air can be traced back to wildfires raging across Canada.

The latest episode of smoke originated from blazes burning across British Columbia and Alberta. Thick smoke billowing from the fires built up over the provinces last week before a shift in the wind blew the massive cloud of smoke southeastward, spreading across the northern Plains Friday and Saturday before expanding over the eastern U.S. Sunday and Monday.

Typically, smoke traveling this far is higher in the atmosphere, but enough was reaching the ground Monday to create health concerns.

A map showing the air quality across the United States on Monday. Orange, red and purple indicate areas where air quality is unhealthy due to wildfire smoke. (AccuWeather/Plume Labs)

The ongoing event is not as extreme as the air quality events from early June in the Northeast or late June in the Midwest, but the expansive reach of the smoke means that more people may be exposed to poor air quality.

Over 26.4 million acres (41,250 square miles) have been scorched across Canada this year due to wildfires, an area larger than Kentucky. This figure is significantly higher than the 17.5 million acres (27,344 square miles) that burned across Canada in 1995, the previous record for the worst wildfire season in the county’s history in terms of land burned.

AccuWeather meteorologists say it is possible that 40 million acres (62,500 square miles), burns by the end of 2023, an area larger than Florida.

On Sunday, authorities announced that a firefighter died while battling a blaze in Canada’s Northwest Territories, according to The Associated Press. The unidentified man was the second person to die this year while fighting fires in Canada, with the first fatality occurring in British Columbia late last week.

Wildfire season has been off to a slow start across the U.S., with 763,533 acres (1,193 square miles) burning through July 15. Over the past 10 years, the U.S. has averaged 2.85 million acres burned by this point in the year.

However, AccuWeather forecasters warn that widespread heat paired with dry conditions will make the West ripe for wildfire activity this week.

The Rabbit Fire is the largest blaze burning in California and has already burned 7,600 acres in Riverside County, located east of Los Angeles. It was only 35% confined as of Monday morning and has forced evacuations near Highway 79, according to CalFire. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Any large fires that break out across the western U.S. could spew more clouds of smoke into the atmosphere, resulting in more air quality concerns across the country.

Produced in association with AccuWeather

Edited by Alberto Arellano and Joseph Hammond