Wildfire smoke live updates: Detroit, Chicago and the Midwest blanketed by haze from Canada
Smoke from Canadian wildfires is smothering U.S. cities like Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburgh. Air quality warnings are in effect across the Midwest as officials warn of hazardous conditions.
3 lessons from the Western U.S. for dealing with wildfire smoke
Hazardous wildfire smoke poses a growing risk across the U.S. — and there are lessons the wildfire-prone West can teach the rest of the country, as climate correspondent Lauren Sommer reports.
1. Everyone needs to protect themselves, even when they're indoors
Just going inside isn't enough. Closing your windows, buying or making air purifiers and running central conditioning will all help.
2. Create a plan for what to do with kids
Many schools, extracurricular programs and outdoor activities get canceled when air quality reaches a certain level, but policies vary across the board. Districts and communities should work together to make smoke response plans ahead of time.
3. The most vulnerable communities need direct help
Many people don't realize they need to protect themselves from smoke, and elderly people, those with health conditions and who lack housing may struggle to get the information and resources they need. One way to help is to make sure the message — and supplies like masks and air filters — are coming from community groups on the ground.
Canada just broke its own record for worst wildfire season ever
MONTREAL — Environment Canada has issued new air quality warnings for the cities of Toronto and Ottawa today, as well as for a large swath of northern Quebec.
Over the weekend, the city of Montreal briefly had the worst air quality in the world. Smog forced the city and surrounding suburban municipalities to shut down outdoor sports facilities, pools and even a scheduled triathlon on Sunday and Monday, to discourage people from spending time in the dangerously polluted air.
On Monday, Canada surpassed the record for its worst wildfire season on record, with nearly 30,000 square miles burned and with another two months to go in the normal season.
The record for Quebec was surpassed weeks ago. International fire crews are helping to battle 75 separate fires burning across the province and more than 480 are burning across the country.
How climate change and El Niño are making heat waves worse
If there's one kind of weather extreme that scientists clearly link to climate change, it's worsening heat waves.
"They are getting hotter," says Kai Kornhuber, adjunct scientist at Columbia University and scientist at Climate Analytics, a climate think tank. "They are occurring at a higher frequency, so that also increases the likelihood of sequential heat waves."
In Texas, the Southern U.S. and Mexico, a three-week heat wave has gripped the region with temperature records falling for days in a row. Extreme heat has also hit India, China and Canada, where widespread wildfires are burning.
"Most of the world's population has experienced record-breaking heat in recent days," says Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California-Los Angeles.
This year, something else is adding fuel to the fire: the El Niño climate pattern. That seasonal shift makes global temperatures warmer, which could make 2023 the hottest year ever recorded.
The Canadian wildfire smoke will linger across the U.S. for several days
U.S. meteorological officials say wildfire smoke that crossed into the Midwest and other parts of the country from Canada isn’t going away just yet.
The National Weather Service tweeted that there are unhealthy air quality levels in certain areas of the U.S. due to Canadian wildfire smoke and that similar conditions are expected to persist for a few days, though the specific forecast could change.
Affected regions included the parts of the Mississippi Valley, the Great Lakes, the Western Ohio Valley, the Central Appalachians, and the Mid-Atlantic.
Wildfire smoke was limiting visibility in Michigan, where thunderstorms were also expected to begin on Thursday.
Cleveland area postpones its 'State of the County' address due to smoke
Cuyahoga County in northeastern Ohio is postponing its "State of the County" address over air quality concerns, officials announced this morning.
The outdoor event was supposed to take place in Cleveland later today, but is being rescheduled to a date that will be confirmed later.
As of this morning, the air quality was rated "very unhealthy" in Cuyahoga County, as well as in Akron, Canton, Lorain and Youngstown, according to Ideastream Public Media.
Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff is warning people to take the health risks of poor air quality seriously, Ideastream reports.
"Certain groups of people are at higher risk, such as those with chronic heart or lung disease, children, the elderly, and pregnant women," he said. "Please take precautions until these conditions improve.”
Smoke didn't stop the MLB games last night
The St. Louis Cardinals played the Houston Astros at home last night, building their lead as smoke clouded the skies over Busch Stadium.
And in Chicago, the Cubs played the victorious Philadelphia Phillies despite the thick haze. ESPN reports the teams were in contact with Major League Baseball and the players' association about air quality throughout the afternoon.
The MLB didn't cancel any games on Tuesday, as air quality declined across parts of the Midwest. But it did earlier this month, postponing games in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., after smoke blanketed cities in the Northeast.
Experts recommend limiting time and activity outside when air quality reaches a certain unhealthy threshold. Heeding their advice, officials in Chicago and nearby suburbs canceled outdoor movies and concerts and closed beach access on Tuesday.
Cities with the world's worst air quality, ranked
As of 10 a.m. ET, IQAir's list of places with the worst air quality still has Dubai in the lead, followed by Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis (which moved up one spot in the last few hours).
The only other U.S. city in the top 10 is Washington, D.C., which ranks ninth.
Here’s what’s happening in areas of the U.S. where the smoke is worst right now
Some parts of the Midwest and further East are blanketed in a shroud of hazy smoke today due to the Canadian wildfires.
Here are a few dispatches from the affected areas:
Chicago’s air quality was the worst of anywhere in the world at one point yesterday, according to WBEZ. The Illinois city had an air quality rating of “unhealthy” as of 9 a.m. local time.
Meteorologists expect Michigan’s air quality to fluctuate this week between unhealthy for sensitive groups and unhealthy for everyone, Michigan Radio reported. An official with the American Lung Association warned all residents to take precautions.
A thick haze is moving from Erie and the Great Lakes region across Pittsburgh, WESA said. A code red air quality alert issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is in effect for several counties all day Wednesday.
There's no end in sight for Canada’s fires
Wildfire season roared to an early and intense start in Canada, and it hasn’t shown signs of easing.
Canada currently has 487 wildfires burning, and more than half of them (253) are out of control, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. That's up from around 450 fires that were burning in mid-June.
More than 164 Canadian communities were under air quality alerts as of Wednesday morning, according to federal agency Environment Canada.
"Already, the amount of land that's burned in Quebec this year is 10 times greater than what's been typical over the last few decades," as NPR's Nate Rott reportedon Monday.
New York is seeing unhealthy air quality again too
Just three weeks after wildfire smoke brought the world's worst air quality to New York, the state is getting hit again.
"We’re already seeing unhealthy air quality in Western New York, Central New York and the Eastern Lake Ontario regions," Gov. Kathy Hochul tweeted Wednesday morning, urging people — especially those in vulnerable groups — to take steps to protect themselves.
Most of the state is under a "moderate" AQI warning, though its central regions have been deemed "unhealthy for sensitive groups" and its westernmost region "unhealthy."
We’re already seeing unhealthy air quality in Western New York, Central New York and the Eastern Lake Ontario regions.— Governor Kathy Hochul (@GovKathyHochul) June 28, 2023
If you’re heading out for the day, especially if you’re in a vulnerable group, check the latest air quality information and take steps to protect yourself. pic.twitter.com/FZO5Qc6xWW
It follows yesterday's warning from New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who tweeted that the ongoing fires and incoming winds could bring worsening air quality to the city starting Wednesday.
The city is expected to feel the impacts of the wildfires through Thursday. Some parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania will likely also be affected, ABC7 reports.
Mount Sinai pulmonologist Dr. Barbara Mann told the channel that the smoke is especially concerning because New York is more humid than it was the last time around.
"It's sort of a double whammy that way because you're getting the higher ozone layers from the heat and humidity," Mann said. "You're also getting the small particles from the smoke ... so you want to be extra cautious on those days."
How to protect yourself from wildfire smoke
Earlier this month, as thick smoke blanketed parts of the Northeast, NPR reporters spoke to experts about what people can do to stay safe (beyond staying inside).
Weeks later, those tips are relevant as ever. Here's a quick refresher:
- If you can't stay indoors, wear an N95 or a similar respirator outside and limit strenuous outdoor activity.
- At home, use a high-quality air filter and seal up any openings in doors and windows with a rolled-up towel. Run your central AC if you have it.
- If you have an air purifier, run it on high. You can also make a DIY version using a HEPA filter and box fan.
- Try to avoid doing anything that will make your indoor air quality worse, like burning a candle or cooking with a gas stove. That also includes vacuuming!
- Press the recirculate button in your car to avoid pulling in air from outside.
- Drink lots of water to keep your eyes, nose and throat moist in the face of irritation.
- Don't forget self-care: A hydrating moisturizer can help keep smoke particles out of your pores and protect against dryness from the smoky air. If you want to get the smoky smell out of your nose, try dabbing some essential oil above your lips or swiping on some scented chapstick.
- Keep your pets inside and hydrated as much as possible, and make their bathroom outings brief.
Read more here:
- How to stay safe from the smoke that's spreading from the Canadian wildfires
- Staying safe in smoky air is particularly important for some people. Here's how
- Short Wave: Wildfire smoke is blanketing much of the U.S. Here's how to protect yourself
- Life Kit: 4 ways to protect yourself from the Canadian wildfire smoke
Detroit's air quality is second-worst in the world; only Dubai is worse
As of 8 a.m. ET, Dubai tops IQAir's real-time ranking of the world's worst air quality, with an AQI of 321.
But two American cities aren't far behind. Detroit ranks second, with an AQI of 238. Next is Chicago, at 166. And Minneapolis, at 121, rounds out the top five.
Detroit and Chicago had the worst air quality in the world for a few hours on Tuesday night, CNN reports.
Climate change is making wildfire seasons longer and more intense
In the U.S., wildfire seasons are dragging out and burning more acres in recent years, thanks in part to climate change, experts say.
The Biden administration launched an effort earlier this year to combat what it called a "wildfire crisis" in the Western U.S., with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack saying it’s “no longer a matter of if a wildfire will threaten many Western communities in these landscapes, it is a matter of when.”
But it’s not just this country — the United Nations warned last year that global warming and land use changes will lead to more wildfires across parts of the world, which could cause public health challenges and other problems.
The authorities battling Canada’s current wildfires say they expect an already destructive season to worsen over the coming summer months, too.
Jeff Schlegelmilch, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, warns that people across the globe should take note, since populations worldwide could be dealing with the effects of wildfires more regularly in the years to come.
“This is something that I think even for folks who are not involved to kind of pay attention to, because this is the type of situation that we’re expecting that we’re going to see more of — not less of — into the future,” he told NPR earlier this month.
Wildfire smoke has also reached Europe, but it isn't as dangerous there
It began reaching the Azores islands on Sunday, made it to Western Europe on Monday and is also affecting Spain, France and other countries to the north.
French broadcaster La Chaîne Météo says its skies are expected to hit a maximum concentration of ash particles today.
However, people in Europe won't need masks to protect them outside: Climate agencies say the smoke there appears to be hanging higher up in the air (3,609 feet and above) than in the U.S., so it doesn't pose the same health risks.
If anything, they say, it may just make for some extra-vivid sunsets.
Smoke from wildfires in Canada has drifted right across the Atlantic Ocean and is now evident on satellite imagery across western Europe— Met Office (@metoffice) June 26, 2023
🌅 Whilst the smoke is high up in the atmosphere, it may make for some vivid sunrises and sunsets in the next few days pic.twitter.com/VSBPx0jH5n
What is the air quality index? Here's how to understand your AQI
If you’re checking the forecast today and wondering how bad the air quality is in your area, you might have come across something called the air quality index, or AQI.
That’s the measurement scale used by the Environmental Protection Agency to judge how safe or hazardous the air is in a certain area.
The scale runs from zero to 500, with zero to 50 categorized as good air quality while anything over 300 is considered hazardous.
Extreme heat can cause air quality issues. See the chart below to understand what the AQI Index numbers & levels mean.— FEMA (@fema) July 12, 2022
☑️Check on the current air quality in your area: https://t.co/V15BJucMd8
☑️Use @CDCgov's heat & health tracker to identify heat risks: https://t.co/XHWwhAFsiz pic.twitter.com/vv2pq7eo1s
AQI is also color-coded, which makes it easier to understand the air quality conditions in your area:
- 0-50 is “good” air quality and colored GREEN.
- 51-100 is “moderate” and YELLOW.
- 101-150 is “unhealthy for certain groups” and ORANGE.
- 151-200 is “unhealthy” and RED.
- 201-300 is “very unhealthy” and PURPLE.
- 301 and above is “hazardous” and MAROON.
Wildfire smoke contains particulate matter, which can be harmful to human health and is one of the pollutants that factors into the AQI.
These are the areas seeing the worst impacts
According to AirNow, an air quality database maintained by several federal agencies, a rating of "very unhealthy" was recorded in parts of the following states Wednesday morning:
The highest concentration of these "very unhealthy" warnings falls over the Great Lakes region. AirNow recommends that everyone in this area should limit all outdoor physical activity and go indoors if they have symptoms.
A handful of other states, at least in part, were registering "unhealthy" air quality warnings, which could pose threats to at-risk groups. Here's a list of those areas:
- New York
- West Virginia
- South Dakota
Why is it so hazy in some parts of the U.S. today?
Smoke from wildfires in Canada is sending waves of haze and particulates over parts of the Central and Eastern United States.
Air quality tracking sites like AirNow.gov, which is maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency, show parts of the Great Lakes region, including Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, to have the worst conditions.
In cities like Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee, the air quality has reached the categorization level "very unhealthy."
Throughout the day, we'll bring you real-time updates on the air quality across the U.S., upcoming smoke forecasts and tips for staying safe. Thanks for joining us.