Newsco – Thick haze settles over New York City and turns the sun red as the East Coast is blanketed in smoke

A heavy haze has settled over New York City for the second day in a row as wildfires burning in the West, including the country's largest in Oregon, spewing smoke and ash into the air in columns up to 6 miles high. Pictured: The sun appears orange behind the skyline in New York City

Smoke and ash from massive wildfires in the West shrouded the sky and led to air quality alerts on parts of the East Coast on Wednesday as the effects of the blazes were felt 2,500 miles away. 

Skies over New York City, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were hazy and the sun turned red as strong winds blew smoke east from more than 80 fires burning across the US, including in California, Oregon, Montana and other states as well as Canada. Oregon’s Bootleg Fire grew to 616 square miles – half the size of Rhode Island, and the state’s fourth-largest wildfire in history. 

The haze first settled on New York City on Tuesday morning, and by evening it cast a red glow over the sun as it set. 

On Wednesday morning, the air quality index rose to 157, triggering a warning by health officials. Once it reaches a threshold of 100, it can cause health problems for people with breathing issues and pregnant women. Those at risk were warned not to go outside, and to avoid strenuous activity. 

People in parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere with health issues like heart disease and asthma were told to avoid the outdoors. Air quality alerts for parts of the region were in place through Thursday.

‘We’re seeing lots of fires producing a tremendous amount of smoke, and … by the time that smoke gets to the eastern portion of the country where it’s usually thinned out, there´s just so much smoke in the atmosphere from all these fires that it’s still pretty thick,’ said David Lawrence, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. ‘Over the last two years, we’ve seen this phenomenon.’ 

The city could get a break from the haze as a cold front approaches the Tri-State area, with heavy thunderstorms expected in the afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. 

The air pollution, which can be seen across the Midwest and as far as Maine and even parts of Iceland is not unprecedented. Last September, New York City and a similarly large swathe of the planet was blanketed in smog by wildfires originating in the Northwest. 

‘What we’re seeing here today is the convergence of several smoke plumes,’ Nancy French, a wildfire scientist at Michigan Technological University told the New York Times. 

Higher temperatures and drought associated with climate change worsen risk factors for wildfires in the West, according to National Geographic – while controlling factors like seasonal rain and snowfall are decreasing, increasing temperatures leech moisture from surface soil and kill off plant life, creating tinder that sustains fires that may break out. Since 1972, the average area burned has increased five-fold. At least 80 percent of trees at high elevations in Sierra Nevada’s grand conifer forests had died in 2016.

A heavy haze has settled over New York City for the second day in a row as wildfires burning in the West, including the country’s largest in Oregon, spewing smoke and ash into the air in columns up to 6 miles high. Pictured: The sun appears orange behind the skyline in New York City

Skies over New York City were hazy Tuesday and the sun turned red as strong winds blew smoke east from California, Oregon, Montana and other states. The sun had a red glow as it rose above the Statue of Liberty on Tuesday morning

The Manhattan skyline photographed from Queens shows the Empire State building barely visible

Skies over New York City were hazy Tuesday, with the sun turning red as it set and strong winds blew smoke east from California, Oregon, Montana and other states. The Manhattan skyline photographed from Queens shows the Empire State building barely visible

On Wednesday morning, the air quality index rose to 157, triggering a warning by health officials. Once it reaches a threshold of 100, it can cause health problems for people with breathing issues and pregnant women. Those at risk were warned not to go outside, and to avoid strenuous activity. Pictured: Visitors to Hudson Yard's The Edge take in the haze over Manhattan

On Wednesday morning, the air quality index rose to 157, triggering a warning by health officials. Once it reaches a threshold of 100, it can cause health problems for people with breathing issues and pregnant women. Those at risk were warned not to go outside, and to avoid strenuous activity. Pictured: Visitors to Hudson Yard’s The Edge take in the haze over Manhattan 

The smoke blanketing the East Coast was reminiscent of last fall when multiple large fires burning in Oregon in the state's worst fire season in recent memory choked the local skies with pea-soup smoke but also impacted air quality several thousand miles away. Pictured: Satellite image shows smoke blanketing the East Coast of the US

The smoke blanketing the East Coast was reminiscent of last fall when multiple large fires burning in Oregon in the state’s worst fire season in recent memory choked the local skies with pea-soup smoke but also impacted air quality several thousand miles away. Pictured: Satellite image shows smoke blanketing the East Coast of the US

Why did the setting sun appear red? The physics of visible light

  • The color of the sky is produced when sunlight hits air molecules
  • Red light has a much longer wavelength than blue light 
  • Air molecules produce every color of visible light – typically, during the day, the sky is blue because light particles have a smaller portion of the atmosphere to penetrate 
  • Sunlight passes through a larger portion of the atmosphere at sunrise and sunset – shorter wavelengths of blue light is scattered while we are able to see the longer wavelengths of red and orange
  • Typically, the sun appears white because all of the colors of light are scattered equally
  • When sunlight passes through a layer of smoke or haze, only red’s long wavelength is visible  

 

The Bootleg fire has so far scorched 394,407 acres since its ignited on July 6. Just 32 percent of the blaze has been contained, according to the federal InciWeb wildfire tracking tool. 

Fires also grew on both sides of California’s Sierra Nevada. The Dixie Fire, which broke out near the site of the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people in the town of Paradise, ballooned to more than 133 square miles, with 15 percent containment. More than 800 structures were threatened. In Alpine County, known as the California Alps, the Tamarack Fire caused evacuations of several communities and grew to 61 square miles with no containment.

The smoke blanketing the East Coast was reminiscent of last fall when multiple large fires burning in Oregon in the state’s worst fire season in recent memory choked the local skies with pea-soup smoke but also impacted air quality several thousand miles away.

Tony Galvez fled the Tamarack Fire in California on Tuesday with his daughter at the last minute and found out later that his home was gone. 

‘I lost my whole life, everything I’ve ever had. The kids are what´s going to matter,’ he said as he fielded calls from relatives. ‘I got three teenagers. They´re going to go home to a moonscape.’ 

The Oregon fire has ravaged the southern part of the state and has been expanding by up to 4 miles a day, pushed by gusting winds and critically dry weather that’s turned trees and undergrowth into a tinderbox.

Fire crews have had to retreat from the flames for 10 consecutive days as fireballs jump from treetop to treetop, trees explode, embers fly ahead of the fire to start new blazes and, in some cases, the inferno’s heat creates its own weather of shifting winds and dry lightning. Monstrous clouds of smoke and ash have risen up to 6 miles into the sky and are visible for more than 100 air miles.

The fire in the Fremont-Winema National Forest merged with a smaller nearby blaze Tuesday, and it has repeatedly breached a perimeter of treeless dirt and fire retardant meant to stop its advance.

A red flag weather warning signifying dangerous fire conditions was in effect through Tuesday and possibly longer. The fire is 32 percent contained.

‘We’re in this for as long as it takes to safely confine this monster,’ Incident Commander Rob Allen said.

On Tuesday night, the moon appeared orange behind the Empire State building due to the haze caused by the smoke from the fires burning on the West Coast

On Tuesday night, the moon appeared orange behind the Empire State building due to the haze caused by the smoke from the fires burning on the West Coast

The city could get a break from the haze as a cold front approaches the Tri-State area, with heavy thunderstoms expected in the afternoon, according to the National Weather Service

The city could get a break from the haze as a cold front approaches the Tri-State area, with heavy thunderstoms expected in the afternoon, according to the National Weather Service 

The smoke settling across the city primarily comes from the Bootleg Fire, the largest of more than 80 burning in the US

The smoke settling across the city primarily comes from the Bootleg Fire, the largest of more than 80 burning in the US

The Manhattan skyline as seen from the George Washington Bridge is barely visible through the haze

The Manhattan skyline as seen from the George Washington Bridge is barely visible through the haze

An atypically-hazy view of New York City captured from the rooftop of The Edge in Manhattan

An atypically-hazy view of New York City captured from the rooftop of The Edge in Manhattan

The color of the sky is produced when sunlight hits air molecules Red light has a much longer wavelength than blue light. Air molecules produce every color of visible light - typically, during the day, the sky is blue because light particles have a smaller portion of the atmosphere to penetrate. Sunlight passes through a larger portion of the atmosphere at sunrise and sunset - shorter wavelengths of blue light is scattered while we are able to see the longer wavelengths of red and orange. Typically, the sun appears white because all of the colors of light are scattered equally. When sunlight passes through a layer of smoke or haze, only red's long wavelength is visible

 The color of the sky is produced when sunlight hits air molecules Red light has a much longer wavelength than blue light. Air molecules produce every color of visible light – typically, during the day, the sky is blue because light particles have a smaller portion of the atmosphere to penetrate. Sunlight passes through a larger portion of the atmosphere at sunrise and sunset – shorter wavelengths of blue light is scattered while we are able to see the longer wavelengths of red and orange. Typically, the sun appears white because all of the colors of light are scattered equally. When sunlight passes through a layer of smoke or haze, only red’s long wavelength is visible

Smoke from fires burning in the West and Central Canada has traveled across the country to reach the East Coast. This map fro NOAA shows air polution as a result of the smoke. Air quality has remained in the unhealthy range across most of the East Coast on Wednesday

Smoke from fires burning in the West and Central Canada has traveled across the country to reach the East Coast. This map fro NOAA shows air polution as a result of the smoke. Air quality has remained in the unhealthy range across most of the East Coast on Wednesday 

This map from NOAA shows where the majority of the wildfires are burning in the US, with the most centered on the West Coast and nearly 300 burning in Canada

This map from NOAA shows where the majority of the wildfires are burning in the US, with the most centered on the West Coast and nearly 300 burning in Canada

At least 2,000 homes have been evacuated at some point during the fire and another 5,000 threatened. At least 70 homes and more than 100 outbuildings have gone up in flames. Thick smoke chokes the area where residents and wildlife alike have already been dealing with months of drought and extreme heat. No one is known to have died.

Extremely dry conditions and heat waves tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight. Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

On Tuesday, officials temporarily closed all recreational and public access to state-managed lands in eastern Washington due to fire danger, starting Friday. The closure will affect about 2,260 square miles (5,853 square kilometers) of land. 

At least 2,000 homes have been evacuated at some point during the fire and another 5,000 threatened. At least 70 homes and more than 100 outbuildings have gone up in flames

At least 2,000 homes have been evacuated at some point during the fire and another 5,000 threatened. At least 70 homes and more than 100 outbuildings have gone up in flames.

Bey shared that he and his wife packed their three children - aged 6, 11 and 12 - and as many belongings as they could carry into a borrowed pickup truck and sped off down a gravel road and out of harm's way. He returned later to find his property reduced to ash.

Bey shared that he and his wife packed their three children – aged 6, 11 and 12 – and as many belongings as they could carry into a borrowed pickup truck and sped off down a gravel road and out of harm’s way. He returned later to find his property reduced to ash. 

'We are fighting the fire aggressively, and there are active efforts to build a containment line,' Marcus Kauffman, a spokesperson for the state Forestry Department said. He also shared that ground crews, backed by water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers, include reinforcements from at least 30 US states. Pictured: A satellite image shows the fire and smoke clouds blowing eastward from Oregon

‘We are fighting the fire aggressively, and there are active efforts to build a containment line,’ Marcus Kauffman, a spokesperson for the state Forestry Department said. He also shared that ground crews, backed by water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers, include reinforcements from at least 30 US states. Pictured: A satellite image shows the fire and smoke clouds blowing eastward from Oregon

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