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Wind blows haze from western fires all the way to the East Coast

Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 10:37 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. - Wildfires burning in parts of Canada and the western U.S. are having an impact up to 2,500 miles away.

The smoke is creating air quality problems here on the East Coast.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control issued a wildfire smoke alert, warning of possible health effects from the poor air quality caused by the smoke that’s drifting here.

It’s getting so bad in areas like New York City and Philadelphia that officials are urging people to limit time outside.

Strong winds are blowing the smoke east from California, Oregon, Montana and other states.

The smoke blowing to the East Coast was reminiscent of last fall, when large blazes burning in Oregon’s worst wildfire season in recent memory choked the local sky with pea-soup smoke but also affected air quality several thousand miles away.

“One of the things about this event that makes it so remarkable is that the smoke is affecting such a large swath of the U.S,” said Jesse Berman, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and an expert on air quality. “You’re not just seeing localized and perhaps upstate New York being affected, but rather you’re seeing numerous states all along the East Coast that are being impacted.”

David Lawrence, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said wildfire smoke usually thins out by the time it reaches the East Coast, but this summer it’s “still pretty thick.”

Extremely dry conditions and recent heat waves tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight. Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

While Berman is hopeful that the smoke will last only a couple of days, he said we may see more of it due to climate change.

“We fully expect that you’re going to see more situations where smoke, from fires occurring farther away, is going to travel long distances and affect people in other parts of the country,” Berman said. “I would not be surprised at all if these events did become more frequent in the future.”

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