New York Goes Dark as Canadian Wildfire Smoke Blankets Skies in the US Northeast

In another sign that climate change has altered our world perhaps forever, New York City is under a shroud today.

New York wildfire

In another sign that climate change has altered our world perhaps forever, New York City is under a shroud today.

The Big Apple and multiple other major cities across the northeast in the US have been blanketed by thick smoke from wildfires across the border in Canada.

Pictures and videos coming out of these cities look post-apocalyptic, and contain their own dire warning of what will happen if we don’t take our rapidly changing climate seriously.

More than 55 million people across the US Northeast, Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states are under air quality warnings.

In Philadelphia, officials urged residents to stay indoors and avoid strenuous activities outdoors.

Public schools in New York City and Washington D.C. canceled outdoor activities due to poor air quality – and it’s just getting worse.

North of the border in Canada, over 9 million acres have been burned to a crisp by wildfires. While that’s a difficult image to conjure, what’s easier to understand is that the number of acres burned so far this year are around 15 times what would have normally burned by now.

As of now, a total of 414 fires are still active in Canada, 239 of which are deemed out of control. This is according to Canadian Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair.

Blair said in a statement on Wednesday that around 9.4 million acres of land has been burned in the fires. An estimated 20,183 people are still evacuated from their homes.

Vital infrastructure, such as roads, telecommunications and high-voltage power lines, have been impacted by the fires and remain vulnerable to the spreading flames.

And in the US, aside from shrouded skies and increasingly poor air quality impacting outdoor activity, travel has been impacted.

New York’s LaGuardia Airport grounded flights inbound for New York, and kept on-site planes on the tarmac through the afternoon. The same scene played out at New Jersey’s Newark International Airport.

There’s some good news, and some bad news.

The good news is that the orange skies across the US aren’t due to the flames themselves. Well, not directly. You’re not seeing a reflection of the flames, as some have suggested on social media. What you’re seeing is the same phenomenon that allows us to see our skies as blue, on a clear day.

CNN reports, “The photos and videos out of the Northeast on Wednesday look like scenes from ‘Mad Max.’

The air is an eerie shade of orange and the visibility is low. Distant buildings that you would otherwise be able to see on a clear day are blotted out by the murky haze.

But why is it orange — and not white, gray or some other color?

Wildfire smoke turns the air orange for the same reason clear air makes the sky look blue — it has to do with what kind of tiny particles are in the air, how many there are and what wavelength color they block.

Think back to the days in school when you learned about ROYGBIV, all the colors of the rainbow. Sunlight contains all of those colors. As it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere, the sun’s light hits all of the molecules and particles in the air.

The colors we ultimately see are whatever wavelengths are left over after they’ve interacted with those particles. Wildfire smoke blocks the shorter wavelengths — like yellow, green and blue — leaving just the red and orange to pass through.”

This phenomenon is more pronounced in the morning and evening, when the sun is low in the sky. Because the light has to pass through more atmosphere before our eyes take it in, the lensing effect amplifies how vivid the colors are and how thick the smoke appears.

The bad news?

These events are going to get worse as climate change spirals out of control. NASA climate and wildfire expert Liz Hoy says that changes in the Earth’s climate, along with other factors, are leading to wildfires increasing in intensity, severity, size and duration.

Even if we take immediate action as a global community, these events would continue for some time until the atmosphere stabilizes a little more. And the fires themselves release enormous amounts of carbon – accelerating climate change.

While the powers that be in Washington seem content to plug their ears and pretend nothing is happening, it’s hard to ignore the smoke on your very doorstep.