Wildfire Smoke Returns To NYC Skies

For the second time in a week, thick smoke has arrived in New York City from the West Coast wildfires, threatening air quality in the region and filtering the sunlight through an ominous red fog.

The hazy conditions are expected to worsen throughout the day on Tuesday, as temperatures reach the lower 90s. An overnight cold front and possible storms may push the smoke out overnight on Wednesday.

The plumes now blanket roughly half of the country, courtesy of the raging wildfires across the western United States. In Oregon, the historic Bootleg Fire now covers roughly 400,000 acres. While that blaze is nearly halfway contained, the fast-growing Dixie Fire has emerged in California, where drought and heatwaves have put the state on track to outpace last summer’s record-breaking destruction.

The bicoastal smoke pollution has cut visibility by half in New York and the surrounding region, according to the National Weather Service. Public health experts have also warned that the high levels of particle matter may actually pose a heightened risk after making the coast-to-coast journey.

“As wildfire smoke travels from the West Coast to the East Coast, it could become more toxic to breathe in,” Dr. Erin Landguth, who studies air pollution models at University of Montana, told Gothamist/WNYC last week. “In essence, by the time the wildfire smoke reaches the East Coast, the smoke has a higher concentration of free radicals that you don’t want to breathe in. They have been shown to damage cells and tissues in the body.”

A photograph of the NYC skyline, from midtown to lower Manhattan as seen from Hoboken, with the haze, taken on July 20th, above a photo taken during the week of July 12th of the same view, but with clear blue skies and white clouds.

The NYC skyline as seen from Hoboken on July 20th (top photo) and during week of July 12th (lower photo) Courtesy of Dillon Geyselaers

Compared to last week’s haze, which brought some of the worst air quality New York has seen in years, this wave is expected to remain higher in the atmosphere, according to experts.

“Quite a bit of smoke today but not nearly as much of it is at the surface — it’s a bit more elevated,” said John Homenuk, a meteorologist with New York Metro Weather. “So not expecting the atrocious air quality.”

As of Tuesday morning, the air quality index reached as high as 117 in parts of the five boroughs — levels that can be unhealthy for people with respiratory issues or other health sensitivities, but less than last week’s peak of 157.