WATERTOWN — A blanket of haze is lingering over North America as wildfires rage this week.
Plumes are extending across the entire southern stretch of Canada and most of the contiguous United States, from the Pacific to Atlantic coasts, according to the Interagency Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program. The program tracks smoke plumes from active fires using satellite imagery and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration mapping system.
NOAA’s National Weather Service in Buffalo reports reduced visibility in Central and Northern New York may continue through Wednesday morning before a cold front is expected to push the smoke farther east.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a statewide Air Quality Advisory in effect until midnight Tuesday.
The DEC announced particulate matter from the smoke as the pollutant of concern for all eight of the state’s Air Quality Health Advisory regions shortly before 10 a.m. Tuesday. As of noon, the advisory was listed as “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” based on Air Quality Index scores set by NOAA.
The AQI is scaled across six levels with accompanying scores between zero and 300+. Advisories are typically issued when scores are expected to exceed 100. Each level carries elevated health concerns, particularly for older adults, people with asthma and people with cardiovascular conditions.
Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups indicates increased potential for coughing, shortness of breath and unusual fatigue among older adults, children and teenagers, people with heart or lung disease and people with asthma. Light outdoor activity is still generally appropriate, but breaks are encouraged.
State air pollution meteorologists work every morning to develop regional AQI forecasts for different pollutants, with values averaged and based on dozens of air quality monitoring devices and stations, wind direction and speed data, satellite images from NASA and NOAA and long-term, seasonal pollution data.
Smoke plumes mapped as polygons over the continent represent smoke observed in the column of air at specific locations. Smoke may only be present higher in the atmosphere and not observable at ground level.
In the tri-county area Tuesday morning, heavy haze was noticeable along the Route 12 corridor between Watertown and Copenhagen, and farther north in St. Lawrence County.
The National Interagency Fire Center reports 35,319 total wildland fires from January through this week. As of Tuesday, 83 large fires are active across 13 states, according to the NIFC. The active fires have so far burned more than 1.2 million acres and are being addressed by more than 19,000 responders. Four fires were noted as contained Tuesday, and seven new fires were logged.
Southern Oregon’s Bootleg Fire, currently the largest active fire, has covered more than 380,000 acres since it started in the Fremont-Winema National Forest on July 6. The NIFC reports 30% of the fire is contained as of Tuesday morning.