Canadian wildfires drive smoke into U.S., with no letup expected soon
U.S. National Weather Service says wind patterns not giving Americans a break from the haze
Northeastern U.S. airports issued ground stops early Thursday as the weather system that's driving the ongoing Canadian-American smoke out — a low-pressure system over Maine and Nova Scotia — "will probably be hanging around at least for the next few days," according to National Weather Service meteorologist.
"Conditions are likely to remain unhealthy, at least until the wind direction changes or the fires get put out," Brian Ramsey of the NWS said. "Since the fires are raging — they're really large — they're probably going to continue for weeks. But it's really just going be all about the wind shift."
That means at least another day, or more, of a dystopian-style detour that's chased players from ball fields, actors from Broadway stages, delayed thousands of flights and sparked a resurgence in mask wearing and remote work — all while raising concerns about the health effects of prolonged exposure to such bad air.
Across the eastern U.S., officials warned residents to stay inside and limit or avoid outdoor activities again Thursday, extending "Code Red" air quality alerts in some places for a third straight day as forecasts showed winds continuing to push smoke-filled air south.
Air delays, but few cancellations: Buttigieg
Disruptions to arrivals and departures were noted by a few northeastern U.S. airports early Thursday.
"Reduced visibility from wildfire smoke will continue to impact air travel today," the FAA said, advising travellers who might be affected to check its website for updates.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, in an MSNBC interview, said the smoke was affecting the multiple airports in the New York-New Jersey, Philadelphia and Maryland-D.C. areas "in a big way."
"If there's good news, it's that this has led to relatively few cancellations; we've been able to keep the system going through ground delay programs," Buttigieg said, while noting that travellers to the affected airports over the next few days should check for updates.
Cancellations and postponements in the world of sports that began the previous day continued on Thursday.
Major League Baseball postponed a home game at Nationals Park between Washington and the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks to June 22. As well, the New York Racing Association cancelled live racing in Belmont, N.Y., two days before the facility is scheduled to host the final leg of the Triple Crown with the Belmont Stakes.
"Based on current forecast models and consultation with our external weather services, we remain optimistic that we will see an improvement in air quality on Friday," association president and CEO David O'Rourke said in a statement.
Plumes of fine particulate matter were experienced on Wednesday as far south as North Carolina. Health officials from Vermont to South Carolina and as far west as Ohio and Kansas warned residents that spending time outdoors could cause respiratory problems due to high levels of fine particulates in the atmosphere.
In Washington, Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered schools to cancel outdoor recess, sports and field trips Thursday. In suburban Philadelphia, officials set up an emergency shelter so people living outside can take refuge from the haze.
Air Quality Alerts over parts of the Great Lakes/Ohio Valley to the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic <a href="https://t.co/A3RX3bxaUJ">https://t.co/A3RX3bxaUJ</a>—@NWSWPC
In Baltimore, the Maryland Zoo was closing early Thursday due to the conditions.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state was making a million N95 masks — the kind prevalent at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — available at state facilities, including 400,000 in New York City. She also urged residents to stay put.
"You don't need to go out and take 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."
More than 400 fires burning
More than 400 blazes burning across Canada have left 20,000 people displaced. The U.S. has sent more than 600 firefighters and equipment to Canada, among the countries that are helping in the effort to tamp the fires.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to U.S. President Joe Biden by phone on Wednesday. Trudeau's office said he thanked Biden for his support and that both leaders "acknowledged the need to work together to address the devastating impacts of climate change."
Biden also urged affected residents to follow guidelines set by local officials to stay safe.
"It's critical that Americans experiencing dangerous air pollution, especially those with health conditions, listen to local authorities to protect themselves and their families," Biden said on Twitter.
Smoke from the blazes has been lapping into the U.S. since last month but intensified with recent fires in Quebec, where about 100 were considered out of control Wednesday.
Eastern Quebec got some rain Wednesday, but Montreal-based Environment Canada meteorologist Simon Legault said no significant rain is expected for days in the remote areas of central Quebec where the wildfires are more intense.
With files from CBC News and Reuters