Julie Jacobson / AP
Smoke from western wildfires swept across the country, bringing vibrant red sunsets and a moonlight to the east. But it also carries poor air quality and harmful health effects thousands of miles from the flames.
Large fires have been burning for weeks in the western United States and Canada. Currently, the largest in the United States is the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, which has now burned over 600 square miles of land and grown so large that it generates its own climate.
For days, the eastern states were trapped in a haze of smoke from fires across the country. The smoke settled over major cities nearly 3,000 miles from the fires, including Philadelphia, New York and even eastern Canada.
This is the second year in a row that smoke has spread this far east. Sight has become normal during the wildfire season, as fires have become more intense, long-lasting and dangerous due to climate change.
Julie Malingowski, an emergency response meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told NPR that smoke pushed into the atmosphere at the site of the fires is now being pushed towards the eastern states.
“We are seeing quite a bit of smoke near surface level in parts of the eastern United States,” she said.
“Normally, as the smoke moves away from the active fire, the smoke tends to disperse in the upper parts of the atmosphere, so it is not as thick on the surface,” Malingowski said. But this time, an area of high pressure pushes this smoke to the surface.
Air quality warnings have spread across the east
The result has been a wave of air quality warnings in eastern states, including Connecticut and Maryland. The warnings range from orange to red – orange meaning sensitive groups are at risk of being affected and red meaning everyone living in the area is at risk.
Particles over long distances is to blame. Microscopic particles called PM2.5 were injected as smoke into the atmosphere and traveled with the wind to distant cities.
At 2.5 microns, the particles are small enough to enter human lungs. They worsen respiratory conditions, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and can interfere with oxygen exchange, says Sheryl Magzamen, assistant professor of epidemiology at Colorado State University.
PM2.5 can be particularly dangerous when warnings of poor air quality aren’t associated with smoke from distant fires, Magzamen told NPR.
“When this smoke is associated with a local fire, our research has actually shown that there are fewer hospitalizations and emergency room visits on average because people are protecting themselves from the smoke and fire,” he said. she declared. “However, if you are far away from them … there is not the same type of warning system because you are not in danger from the fire.”
Julie Jacobson / AP
Malingowski says the smoke is likely to linger as long as the fires rage and the weather stays dry.
“As long as active fires burn and high pressure remains in the central United States, many places will see at least some reduction in visibility in their surroundings east of the Rockies,” she said. declared.
“Once the fire activity decreases and precipitation reappears in places that receive this reduction in visibility from smoke, it will help to mitigate the impacts of the smoke,” she added.
Josie Fischels is an intern at the NPR News Desk.