Why Is the Sun Red? Wildfire Smoke Spreads to New York City

A hazy sky across parts of the East Coast had its origins in the blazes a continent away.

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Why is the sun red? Wildfire smoke from a continent away spreads to New York.

An image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration earlier this month showed gray-brown wildfire smoke moving across North America.Credit…NOAA

July 20, 2021, 1:22 p.m. ET

New York City awoke on Tuesday to a view of the Western wildfires: a red sun in the sky.

Smoke from the blazes burning in the Western United States and Canada made its way across the continent, contributing to the haze in the city and elsewhere on the East Coast, said John Cristantello, a meteorologist with the New York office of the National Weather Service.

“The haze or the smoke that you see there is coming from the wildfires out in the West,” he said, “and that’s helping scatter the light, which leads to those more vivid sunrises and sunsets.”

People noticed.

Wildfires out west, mostly from Western Canada, have sent smoke all the way to the city. That smoke is creating the haze you’re seeing this morning and giving the sun a red tint. ?: Bronx – Soundview Neighborhood pic.twitter.com/Zx4AwZCOrY

— Erick Adame (@ErickAdameOnTV)

July 20, 2021

Hazy skies are nothing new during a New York City summer, Mr. Cristantello said. “That happens with or without smoke. You have those hazy days,” in part because of air pollution. But the long-traveling smoke is part of the mix, he said.

New York State issued an air quality health advisory for Tuesday, lasting until midnight, because of high levels of fine particulate matter in the air, which wildfires contribute to.

By late afternoon, the Air Quality Index for New York City had reached 170, well above average. The concentration of microscopic particulate pollution called PM2.5 was nine times above exposure recommendations from the World Health Organization.

In a statement, the Department of Environmental Conservation noted that while it is not rare for traveling wildfire smoke to reach the New York region, the smoke usually stays high in the atmosphere. But in this case, “data showed that the smoke is extending down to the ground level,” since much of it is coming from relatively nearby fires in western Ontario and eastern Manitoba.

Climate change is making wildfires larger and more intense, with results visible from satellites and on the ground. The Bootleg Fire in Oregon now covers more than 388,000 acres and is so intense that it is essentially making its own weather. Satellite images from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show smoke from that fire and others making its way across wide swaths of the United States and Canada. It first reached New York City around July 15.

Mr. Cristantello said that a cold front pushing through the New York City area on Wednesday should clear out the haze, but it could return if the fires persist.

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