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Business News/ News / World/  Canada wildfire smoke triggers air quality concerns in New York. Explained

Canada wildfire smoke triggers air quality concerns in New York. Explained

Wildfires in Canada's east have spread rapidly, with Quebec now the epicenter of the crisis, struggling to put out 140 fires, most of them out of control. The weather forecasters expect hazy weather to continue in New York through the rest of the week.Canadian wildfire

The Statue of Liberty blanketed in smoke from Canada wildfires in New York (Image: Bloomberg)Premium
The Statue of Liberty blanketed in smoke from Canada wildfires in New York (Image: Bloomberg)

Hundreds of uncontrolled forest fires blazed across Canada causing the air quality of New York city to deteriorate. Wildfires are common in Canada's western provinces, but this year flames have mushroomed rapidly in the country's east, making it the worst-ever start to the season. 

Federal Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair said about 3.8 million hectares (9.4 million acres) have already burned.

US President Joe Biden in a call offered his support to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the "devasting and historic" wildfires burning in his country. "The President has directed his team to deploy all available Federal firefighting assets that can rapidly assist in suppressing fires impacting Canadian and American communities," the statement by White House said.

The air quality index, a US Environmental Protection Agency metric for air pollution, exceeded a staggering 400 at times in Syracuse, New York City and Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley. A level of 50 or under is considered good; anything over 300 is considered “hazardous," when even healthy people are advised to curtail outdoor physical activity.

Canada awaits wildfire help

Canada's Quebec province, hit hard by wildfires that have ravaged the country, eagerly awaited the arrival of reinforcements from abroad to help beat back blazes that are overwhelming its firefighting capacity. Quebec has deployed hundreds of firefighters, with help expected from France and the United States in the coming days.

The forest fires started in late April in British Columbia and Alberta, displacing more than 30,000 people at its peak, and shutting down oil and gas production. While most fires in the western provinces are under control, the fires have now opened new fronts spreading to the eastern provinces of Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario.

After major flare-ups in western Canada last month, firefighting efforts recently shifted to Nova Scotia on the Atlantic coast, before moving this week to Quebec, which is now the epicenter of the crisis.

Firefighters in the province are struggling to put out 140 fires, most of them listed as out of control, and authorities hope extra personnel and rainfall could provide some relief. But Quebec's Premier Francois Legault said that no significant rain is forecast before Monday evening, and raised concerns about a shortage of resources. 

What is causing wildfires?

Atlantic Canada received low snowfall this winter, followed by an exceptionally dry spring. Nova Scotia's capital Halifax received just 120 millimetres of rain between March and May, roughly a third of the average, according to Weather Network meteorologist Michael Carter.

As per Eric James, a modeling expert with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science at the University of Colorado, who is also with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told Associated Press, “The month of May was just off the charts — record warm in much of Canada." A warming planet will produce hotter and longer heat waves, making for bigger, smokier fires, according to Joel Thornton, professor and chair of the department of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington. 

The strong winds high up in the atmosphere has transported smoke long distances and it’s common for large, violent fires to create unhealthy conditions hundreds of miles away from where forests are burning. As per Bob Henson, meteorologist with Yale Climate Change Connections, but the right mix of circumstances had to align for the smoke to blanket major US cities: a dry, hot spring set the stage. Then weather did the rest." In Canada, air is circulating counterclockwise around a low pressure system near Nova Scotia. That sends air south over the fires in Quebec. There the air picks up smoke, and then turns east over New York state, carrying smoke to the eastern seaboard.

High pollution levels in New York

According to IQAir, New York City had the highest levels of air pollution among significant cities worldwide on Wednesday morning, surpassing even New Delhi. Recently in a global air quality report, India was ranked eighth on the list, with Chad, Iraq, Pakistan, Bahrain, and Bangladesh being the five most polluted countries in 2022.

Weather forecast for the rest of the week

The weather forecasters expect hazy weather to continue in New York through the rest of the week. AccuWeather forecasters expect “very unhealthy" levels to continue through the rest of the week. Many weather stations in the Big Apple reported visibility of less than a mile.

Mask recommended

AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jonathan Porter has recommended high-quality N95 or KN95 mask if one must spend time outside. “Sleeping with the windows closed and using an air conditioner or fan can be helpful," he said, adding that a HEPA filter can reduce the number of these small particles in the air. 

New York City Major Eric Adams has urged all citizens to limit outdoor activities this week. Adams said New York City public schools will remain open but “not offer any outdoor activities on Wednesday". New Jersey officials urged residents to limit their time outside due to the poor air quality. For those who must work outside, the state recommended that people wear an N95 mask, several schools in New Jersey cancelled recess and other outdoor activities, due to the air quality across the state

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Published: 08 Jun 2023, 09:47 AM IST
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