NEW YORK – The effects of wildfires in the west have been felt across the country as cities on the east coast have seen smoky skies this week.
The sun was shining a red-orange hue as a visible haze darkened parts of New York City for a second day on Wednesday. Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston all experienced similar smoking conditions, which began on Tuesday.
The smoke triggered air quality alerts across much of the region as the threat of fine particles increased. In New York City, the air quality index hit its 2021 high on Tuesday at levels the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers unhealthy.
Air quality conditions remained poor on Wednesday and much of the Washington to Philadelphia area remained under a National Weather Service air quality alert.
“We see many fires producing an enormous amount of smoke, and… by the time the smoke reaches the eastern part of the country where it is usually cleared up, there is so much smoke in the atmosphere from all these fires that it is ‘is still pretty thick, ”said David Lawrence, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
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The Bootleg Fire in Oregon was by far the largest, burning over 540 square miles about 300 miles southeast of Portland in and around the Fremont-Winema National Forest.
A total of 83 large wildfires are burning in 13 states, most in the western United States, the National Interagency Fire Center said on Tuesday, with nearly 1.3 million acres of land affected. Smoke from the fires traveled more than 2,700 miles to reach New York City.
Dry conditions, drought and the recording of heat waves created the conditions to cause such fires. Scientists agree that climate change worsens these conditions and can make wildfires bigger and more intense.
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The National Weather Service said conditions were not improving much in the west either, with forecasts for the next few days calling for “extreme drought, gusty winds and thunderstorms.”
While haze can be common in the summer in east coast cities like New York with air pollution and heat, west coast wildfires in recent years have caused a number of smoky days.
“Over the past couple of years we’ve seen this phenomenon,” Lawrence said.
Air quality levels have reached the point where the EPA says even the general public can experience some of the effects, including coughing and shortness of breath. Members of sensitive groups, including people with asthma or heart disease, are at increased risk.
The New York Weather Service said Wednesday afternoon thunderstorms could provide some relief and help clear the skies as a cold front advances.
Contribution: Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; The Associated Press