Schools along the US East Coast canceled outdoor activities, airlines experienced reduced traffic, and millions of Americans were advised to stay indoors as smoke from Canadian wildfires drifted southward, enveloping cities in a thick, yellow haze. The U.S. National Weather Service issued air quality alerts for the entire Atlantic seaboard, and health officials from multiple states warned residents about the respiratory risks associated with spending time outdoors amidst the high levels of fine particulates in the atmosphere.
President Joe Biden took to Twitter, emphasizing the importance of Americans, especially those with health conditions, following the guidance of local authorities to safeguard themselves and their families from dangerous air pollution. Private forecasting service AccuWeather reported that the thick haze and soot, spanning from high elevations to ground level, marked the most severe outbreak of wildfire smoke in over two decades to affect the Northeastern United States.
New York City’s renowned skyline, typically visible from miles away, seemed to vanish behind an otherworldly veil of smoke, leaving some residents feeling unwell. Mohammed Abass, walking along Broadway in Manhattan, shared his difficulty breathing and mentioned that his scheduled driving license road test for the day was canceled. People working outdoors, like Chris Ricciardi, the owner of Neighbor’s Envy Landscaping in Roxbury, New Jersey, faced additional challenges. They had to limit their work hours and wear masks typically used for heavy pollen to minimize their exposure to the smoky air.
Angel Emmanuel Ramirez, a fashion stylist at a Givenchy outlet in Manhattan, revealed that he and his colleagues began feeling ill and closed the shop early after realizing the store was permeated with the smell of smoke. Ramirez described the intensity of the situation, comparing it to a wildfire occurring just across the river rather than in Canada.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared the situation an “emergency crisis,” highlighting that the air pollution index for certain parts of the state exceeded normal levels by eightfold. Reduced visibility caused by the haze led the Federal Aviation Administration to slow down air traffic into the New York City area and Philadelphia from other regions of the East Coast and upper Midwest, resulting in an average flight delay of approximately 30 minutes.
Schools across the East Coast canceled outdoor activities, including sports, field trips, and recesses. A matinee performance of “Prima Facie” on Broadway was interrupted after 10 minutes when actress Jodie Comer experienced difficulty breathing due to the poor air quality. The show resumed with understudy Dani Arlington taking over the role of Tessa. Even Major League Baseball games, such as those of the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies, were postponed. Additionally, a National Women’s Soccer League match in Harrison, New Jersey, and a WNBA women’s basketball game in Brooklyn were rescheduled.
Air quality continued to deteriorate, with some areas reporting air quality index (AQI) levels well above 400, according to Airnow. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, recorded the nation’s worst AQI reading of 410 at noon (1600 GMT). In major cities, New York had the highest AQI in the world on Wednesday afternoon at 342, double the index of chronically polluted cities like Dubai and Delhi.
The smoke, originating from Canadian wildfires that have ravaged 9.4 million acres (3.8 million hectares) and displaced 120,000 people, crossed the U.S. border, resulting in the hazy skies over North American cities. The increasingly yellowish tinge and the smell of burning wood created an otherworldly atmosphere, leaving residents concerned about their health.
Wildfire smoke poses significant health risks, including increased rates of heart attacks, strokes, asthma exacerbation, and other respiratory problems. Eye irritation, itchy skin, and rashes have also been reported. Vulnerable populations, such as older adults and individuals with pre-existing health conditions, are particularly at risk. The surge in demand for air purifiers and masks reflects the public’s deep concern and their efforts to protect themselves from the harmful effects of the smoke.
Addressing the urgency of the situation, President Joe Biden called for collective action, urging Americans to heed the guidance of local authorities. Efforts to combat climate change and mitigate the occurrence and severity of wildfires have become paramount. The unprecedented scale and intensity of the Canadian wildfires highlight the need for global action to address the underlying causes of such events. Transitioning to renewable energy sources, implementing sustainable land management practices, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are crucial steps in minimizing the risk of future wildfires and safeguarding the health and well-being of communities.
The smoky haze persisting along the U.S. East Coast serves as a stark reminder of the interconnectedness of our planet and the challenges posed by climate change. It emphasizes the importance of resilience, adaptability, and sustainable practices in building a more secure and sustainable future for all.
As the weekend approaches, the poor air quality is expected to continue due to a developing storm system. AccuWeather forecasts that the smoke will shift westward across the Great Lakes and move deeper south through the Ohio Valley into the mid-Atlantic region, prolonging the impacts of the Canadian wildfires.
In this critical period, individuals are urged to prioritize their health and follow the guidance of local authorities. Staying indoors, minimizing outdoor activities, and using air purifiers and masks can help reduce exposure to the hazardous air conditions. It is a time for communities to come together, support one another, and work collectively towards addressing the urgent need for climate action and protecting the well-being of present and future generations.