On Wednesday, the NYC air quality reached hazardous levels due to the presence of smoke from wildfires currently raging in Canada. The smoke in the air caused the sky to take on an eery orange haze that some likened to a scene from Star Wars and other apocalyptic movies. As the thick haze blanketed the five boroughs, views of the skyline were unsettlingly obscured. Below, check out some of the images sent in by our readers and Untapped New York Insiders!
The air quality in NYC has still not yet returned to safe levels. New Yorkers are advised to stay inside and limit exposure while outdoors by wearing a mask. The FDNY will be handing out free masks at various locations throughout the five boroughs.
Many outdoor recreational facilities including the Bronx and Central Park Zoos remain closed on Thursday, while outdoor events, such as the Uptown Night Market, have been postponed or canceled throughout the city. The New York Public Library, after closing on Wednesday, had a delayed opening on Thursday afternoon.
If the wildfires are in Canada, how did the smoke reach all the way to NYC? Similar to the Gulf stream current in the ocean that brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico to the British Isles, wind patterns common to the area bring air from Canada into the United States. Because of these patterns, the smoke is pushed further inland, reaching places like the Carolinas and Chicago.
When the smoke from the wildfires came into the city we call home, the sky turned notably apocalyptic orange. It’s not that the sky is actually on fire or that we can even see the fire from Quebec in NYC, the explanation of this phenomenon is a bit more scientific. The smoke in the air contains particles that block certain wavelengths of color. When the air is clear, we see a blue sky because the particles in the air act as prisms that allow blue light to pass through. Blue lights has a smaller wavelength compared to other colors.
With the smoke in the air, shorter wavelengths like blue and green are blocked. Therefore we see a brilliant orange-red color in the sky. Red and orange are at the opposite end of the spectrum as green and blue and have the longest wavelengths of visible light.
When wood or fuel is burned, it releases Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) into the atmosphere. PM 2.5 is a fine particulate matter that is about 2.5 microns (or less) in width. For reference, there are 25,000 microns in an inch. Because it is so small, it has a deteriorative effect on pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. The standard for air quality determined by the Environmental Protection Agency shows that on a daily basis, the maximum PM 2.5 that should be in clean, healthy air is 35 micrograms per cubic meter. On June 7th, there was a high of around 400 micrograms of PM 2.5 per cubic meter of air. This dangerously high quantity of small particulate matter in the air has since decreased, but explains why there was a bright tangerine sky.
The haze is expected to stick around through the weekend, through it should improve each day. You can check the air quality index on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website or their Twitter account and stay up to date with notifications from NYC’s official emergency notification system here. The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has helpful tips on how to keep yourself, your family, and your pets safe while the air quality remains at unhealthy levels.
Check our more photos sent in from our readers below!
This article was written by Nicole Saraniero and Elaine Ryan