New York — On air quality maps, purple indicates the worst. In reality, it’s a thick, dangerous haze that disrupts the daily lives of millions of people across the United States and Canada, blurring horizons and turning skies orange.
With weather systems expected to barely budge, the smoky blanket rising from wildfires in Quebec and Nova Scotia and sending plumes of fine particles as far away as North Carolina and northern Europe should continue through Thursday and possibly the weekend.
That means at least another day of the dystopian detour that has chased players from ballparks and actors from Broadway stages, delayed thousands of flights and sparked the resurgence of mask and teleworking — all while raising concerns about the health effects of prolonged exposure to such foul air.
The weather system driving the Great Canadian-American Smoke – the low-pressure system over Maine and Nova Scotia – “is likely to be hanging on for at least the next few days,” said US meteorologist Brian Ramsey.
“It is likely that unhealthy conditions will remain, at least until the wind changes direction or the fires are extinguished,” Ramsey said. “Since the fires are raging—they’re really big—they could probably go on for weeks. But it’s just a matter of shifting winds.”
Across the eastern United States, officials warned residents to stay indoors and limit or avoid outdoor activities again Thursday, and extended “Code Red” air quality alerts in some places for a third day in a row as forecasts showed winds continuing to push smoky air. south.
The Norwegian Institute for Climate and Environment Research said the smoke has moved over Greenland and Iceland since June 1 and is expected to reach Norway on Thursday, but it was not expected to be a health concern.
In Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered schools to cancel Thursday’s outdoor recess, sports, and field trips. In the suburbs of Philadelphia, officials have set up an emergency shelter so people who live outside can take shelter from the fog.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state was making 1 million N95 masks — the type prevalent at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — available at state facilities, including 400,000 in New York City. It also urged residents to stay put.
“You don’t need to go out for a walk. You don’t need to push the baby in the stroller,” Hochul said Wednesday night. “This is not a safe time to do that.”
The letter may arrive. New York City has yet to see an uptick in 911 emergency calls related to respiratory issues and cardiac arrests, officials said Wednesday.
More than 400 fires burning across Canada have displaced 20,000 people. The United States has sent more than 600 firefighters and equipment to Canada. Other countries help too.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with President Joe Biden by phone Wednesday. Trudeau’s office said it thanked Biden for his support and that both leaders “recognized the need to work together to address the devastating effects of climate change.”
Canadian officials say this is shaping up to be the country’s worst wildfire season on record. It started early on drier than normal terrain and accelerated quickly. Smoke from the fires has been pouring into the United States since last month, but it intensified with the latest blazes in Quebec, where about 100 were deemed out of control on Wednesday.
“I can taste the air,” Dr. Ken Strompf said in a Facebook post from Syracuse, New York, where the sky has taken the name of the local university: Orange.
The smoke was so thick in Canada’s capital, Ottawa, that the office towers across the Ottawa River were barely visible. In Toronto, Yili Ma said her hiking group canceled a trip planned for this week, and was ditching restaurant patios that are a beloved summer tradition in a country known for harsh winters.
“I put my mask away for over a year, and now I’ve been wearing my mask since yesterday,” Ma said ruefully.
Eastern Quebec had some rain on Wednesday, but Canadian environmental meteorologist Simon Legault said he does not expect heavy rain for several days in remote areas of central Quebec where wildfires are most intense.
In the United States, federal officials postponed some flights heading Thursday morning to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Newark, New Jersey; And Philadelphia because the smoke was limiting visibility. The FAA said in a statement that it will likely need to take steps to manage the flow of air traffic to Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, North Carolina, as well.
Major League Baseball’s Yankees and Phillies games have been postponed. And on Broadway, “Hamilton” and “Camelot” canceled performances Wednesday, and “Prima Fassi” star Jodie Comer departed after 10 minutes due to labored breathing. The show’s publicists said the show had resumed with a replacement.
He wouldn’t have been in the outdoor theater in Central Park either. Shakespeare in the Park has canceled its Thursday and Friday performances of “Hamlet,” saying it is not for a gentleman of mind to suffer the slings and arrows of the miserable air.