California’s recent wildfires have
killed at least 82 people. Nearly 700 others are still
the blazes is billowing high into the atmosphere and drifting
across the US.
California’s smoky haze has created “smokestorm”
conditions, but fine particles have spread as far as New York
The hazy smoke has changed the appearance of sunsets
and sunrises, making them more orange in color.
The recent scourge of wildfires in California have claimed the
lives of at least 82 people, and authorities report that nearly
700 others are still missing.
Camp Fire in northern California has proven the most deadly
in the state’s history, killing 79 people. The blaze has
scorched more than 150,000 acres of land, destroyed more than
15,000 buildings, and is about 70% contained as of Tuesday.
But smoke from the expansive fire, along with contributions from
the almost-extinguished Woolsey Fire outside of LA, has not
remained in California. Large clouds of fine particles have
drifted to nearby states like Washington, creating hazy, smoky
conditions that one meteorologist in Seattle called a “smokestorm.”
Even finer particles of smoke have joined high-altitude jet
streams and, as of Monday evening, made their way across the
continental US. They even reached New York City, according to an
experimental NOAA forecasting tool called High Resolution Rapid Refresh.
The image above shows a 4 p.m. EST forecast for yesterday, right
before the sun set in eastern New York.
Specifically, the forecast showed levels of “vertically
integrated smoke”: fine smoke particles dispersed throughout
various layers of the atmosphere.
“Wow. I knew tonight’s sunset over New York City seemed
different, and I should’ve realized!” Kathryn Prociv, a
meteorologist and producer for NBC News and the Today Show,
tweeted on Monday. “Wildfire
smoke is in the air, all the way from California.”
Prociv included a photo of a sunset that she took from the Hudson
River, as well as a NOAA forecast.
Her image is hazier and more orange-colored than is typical for
the city. This may be because the smoke particles that wafted
over the US — like other
fine air pollutants — are as small as 2.5 microns, or about
the size of a single microbe. Such particles can absorb bluer
colors of sunlight and affect the look and color of sunrises and
sunsets. They can also cool down air temperatures.
The animated map below shows the NOAA’s 36-hour smoke forecast as
of Tuesday afternoon.
This forecast shows a thinning trail of smoke drifting across the
US through Wednesday. That diminishing trend should continue,
since California’s wildfires are increasingly being contained
(and spouting less soot into the air).
However, far-flung smoky sunsets caused by wildfires may become a
abnormal” for the US as
climate change exacerbates dry, fire-spreading conditions in
California and other states.