Canadian Wildfires Cause Severe Air Quality Alerts Across the U.S., But CNY Gets the Worst of It

Canadian wildfire smoke blankets Minneapolis in May 2023. Photo Credit: Chad Davis (Wikimedia Commons)

Over the last week, millions of U.S. residents have been at serious risk of inhaling harmful air. This yellow haze of smoke that has covered the East Coast originated from Canadian fires that grew out of control. Authorities, mainly in New York, urged people to stay indoors and to wear masks if necessary until the air quality improved.

Canada wildfire season typically runs from May to October. Being just one month in, Canada is on track to having its most destructive season yet. The fires are believed to have been caused by human activity, dry weather, and wind, which have all contributed to the spreading of the flames. Climate change has also taken part in the starting of these fires as, much like the rest of the U.S., Canada has faced record heat and drought. New York Senator Chuck Schumer states, “Warmer temperatures and severe droughts mean forests burn faster, burn hotter and burn bigger…” Quebec’s recent fires were sparked by lighting, while elsewhere in the country, the fires have been started by discarded cigarette butts and sparks from passing trains.

As of Wednesday afternoon, New York City’s air quality was the fourth worst in the world. The air quality index had climbed up the scale to 484, with the scale being out of 500. Young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with lung or heart illnesses were especially advised to avoid the outdoors. The smoky haze has caused low visibility, leading to delayed flights through Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Baltimore.

Many J-DHS students have commented that the yellow haze has created an apocalypse-like effect and that the air “smells burnt.” J-DHS earth science teacher Richard Adler explained why the phenomenon was so bad in Central New York and why it was worrisome. Adler states, “There are hundreds of wildfires burning in Canada right now. That smoke is from all the burning trees and brush. It’s dangerous because the particles are so small that they can get into your blood and then the rest of your body has to deal with it. Thankfully, the worst didn’t last too many days but it could come back if the winds are right and the fires continue.” When asked why the smoke was mainly moving over the East Coast, Adler stated, “Last week there was a low pressure system off the coast of Maine that wasn’t moving away very fast. As we all know, lows spin counterclockwise, and since we were on the back end of it, the winds were coming from the north, sending all that smoke right over us. I hope we are done with the worst of it and I hope that the fires get under control first, for everybody’s sake.”

As of late Thursday, the air quality in New York State has improved significantly. The air quality in the Syracuse area has been in the 70s, which is considered moderate and could still pose a health concern for a small number of individuals.

Mila Morgan, '24
Mila is a junior at J-DHS. She is the Communications Director and RamPage Assistant and this is her second year writing for the RamPage. In her free time, she enjoys reading, drawing, and listening to music.