On Wednesday, schools across the East Coast of the United States canceled outdoor activities, airline traffic slowed, and millions of Americans were encouraged to stay indoors as smoke from Canadian wildfires drifted south and blanketed cities in a thick, yellow haze.
The National Weather Service of the United States issued air quality alerts for nearly the entire Atlantic coastline. Due to high levels of fine particulates in the atmosphere, health authorities from Vermont to South Carolina and as far west as Ohio and Kansas warned residents that spending time outdoors could cause respiratory problems.
President Joe Biden tweeted, "It is crucial that Americans experiencing dangerous air pollution, especially those with health conditions, listen to local authorities to protect themselves and their families."
AccuWeather, a private weather forecasting service in the United States, reported that dense haze and soot extending from high elevations to ground level marked the worst wildfire smoke outbreak to blanket the Northeastern United States in over two decades.
Some New Yorkers reported feeling ill due to the eerie appearance of the city's skyline, which a mysterious cloud of smoke had obscured.
"It makes breathing difficult," said Mohammed Abass as he walked down Broadway in Manhattan. My scheduled road test for my driver's license was scheduled for today, but it was canceled.
Chris Ricciardi, the proprietor of Neighbor's Envy Landscaping in Roxbury, New Jersey, found the polluted air difficult to endure. He stated that he and his team were reducing their work hours and donning masks for heavy pollen.
"We don't have the luxury to stop working," he stated. We want to limit our exposure to pollution as much as possible, but what can be done?
Angel Emmanuel Ramirez, 29, a fashion stylist at a Givenchy outlet in Manhattan, reported that he and his coworkers began to feel nauseated and decided to close the store early when they detected the odor of smoke.
Ramirez stated, "It's so intense, you'd think the wildfire was occurring directly across the river, not in Canada."
Governor Kathy Hochul of New York referred to the situation as an "emergency crisis," stating that the air pollution index in sections of her state was eight times higher than normal.
Visibility issues caused by the haze compelled the Federal Aviation Administration to decelerate air traffic into the New York City area and Philadelphia from the rest of the East Coast and upper Midwest, with average flight delays of about a half hour.
East Coast schools canceled all outdoor activities, including sports, field excursions, and recess.
10 minutes into a matinee performance of "Prima Facie" on Broadway, actress Jodie Comer experienced difficulty breathing due to low air quality. Replacing Comer in the role of Tessa was understudy Dani Arlington, according to a statement from a production spokesperson.
Major League Baseball was affected, as the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies postponed Wednesday home games. A National Women's Soccer League match in Harrison, New Jersey, and a WNBA women's basketball game in Brooklyn were also rescheduled.
According to Airnow, the air quality index (AQI), which measures significant pollutants such as particulate matter produced by fires, was well above 400 in some areas, with 100 representing "unhealthy" and 300 representing "hazardous."
At noon (1600 GMT), Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, had the worst air quality index in the country, with a reading of 410. According to IQAir, New York had the highest AQI among major cities on Wednesday afternoon, with a reading 342. This was roughly double the index for persistently polluted cities such as Dubai (168) and Delhi (164).
Smoke Crossing From Canada
Hundreds of forest fires in Canada have scorched 9.4 million acres (3.8 million hectares) and forced 120,000 people from their homes in an unusually early and intense start to the wildfire season. The haze drifted over the U.S. border from Canada.
The heavens above New York and many other North American cities became increasingly hazy on Wednesday, with a spooky yellowish tint permeating the smoke-filled canopy. The air smelled of charred timber.
Smoke from wildfires has been associated with increased heart attacks and strokes, emergency room visits for asthma and other respiratory conditions, eye irritation, irritated skin, and rashes, among other issues.
A Manhattan Home Depot store ran out of air purifiers and masks. The New York Road Runners canceled events commemorating Global Running Day.
"Today is not the day to train for a marathon or participate in an outdoor activity with your children," advised New York City Mayor Eric Adams. "If you are older, have heart or breathing problems, or are an older adult, you should remain inside."
The number of pedestrians wearing face masks was reminiscent of the worst days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tyrone Sylvester, 66, wore a mask while playing chess in Union Square, New York City, as he has done daily for the past 30 years. He said he had never seen the city's air quality so poor.
"When the sun appears like that," he said, indicating the bronze-colored orb visible through the haze, "we know something is wrong. This is the appearance of global warming."
AccuWeather predicts that poor air quality will persist through the weekend, with a developing storm system expected to transfer the smoke westward across the Great Lakes and further south through the Ohio Valley and into the mid-Atlantic.