Hazy shade of summer: Quebec wildfires drape Adirondacks in smoke

A smoky haze is seen over mountain ranges from the base of Mount Pisgah in Saranac Lake on Monday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

Did you feel a yellow haze all in your brain on Monday? It wasn’t Jimi Hendrix. It was wildfire smoke from Canadian blazes going on currently in Quebec.

Around 150 fires in the Canadian province to the north blanketed several states in a thick layer of low-atmosphere smoke Monday, casting a yellow hue over everything as light from the sun was tinted by the pollution, almost like a lens or a filter.

Scott McKim said he could smell the smoke at the University of Albany’s Atmospheric Sciences Research Center at the summit of Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington, where he is the science manager.

McKim said a high pressure zone in the Hudson Bay area is draining air from the north to the south, right over the Adirondacks, with the backflow of wind into the U.S. smuggling in smoke from central and northern Quebec across the border.

He said the worst of the smoke should be over by Tuesday morning, as rain predicted on Monday night knocks the particles out of the sky, but the smoke is supposed to last in some form until Wednesday morning.

The Montreal Gazette reports that more than 10,000 Quebec residents have been evacuated from their homes as more than 150 fires burn, with around 114 classified as being “out of control.”

McKim said for the past month there have been fires in the province of Alberta, which is further away, so the smoke from those has stayed in the upper atmosphere. Then there were some wildfires in Nova Scotia for several days last week.

It is earlier in the season then normal for them to be seeing wildfire smoke, McKim said.

McKim said the smoke is highly visible because it’s low in the atmosphere and it has been very dry recently. He said the last measurable precipitation he recorded was on May 24 and that parts of the state are in the first stages of drought.

Sensors at the base and summit of Whiteface Mountain shows spikes in all gasses, McKim said, with particulate matter of 2.5 nanometers in width, black carbon and measurements of 4,000 particles per cubic centimeter. These levels are typically in the hundreds, so this is very high, McKim said.

The state departments of Health and Environmental Conservation issued an Air Quality Health Advisory for the Adirondacks and other regions of the state on Monday for fine particulate matter exceeding an Air Quality Index value of 100. These levels can be the same indoors with sources like tobacco smoking, candle or incense burning, or fumes from cooking.

High particulate matter can exacerbate existing respiratory issues, like asthma and heart disease, or among children and the elderly.

McKim also said this smoke coincides with high levels of pine pollen, which can contribute to irritate the lungs of people who are allergic to the pollen.

The state classifies this as “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” For these groups, the state suggests avoiding strenuous activities at these times. But there’s no reason for serious concern.

“There is a low probability that wildfire smoke near the surface leads to adverse health effects to sensitive populations,” according to an alert from the National Weather Service.

“Exposure can cause short-term health effects such as irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and shortness of breath,” a DEC press release reads. “People with heart or breathing problems, and children and the elderly may be particularly sensitive.”

Staying indoors may reduce exposure, according to the state.

It also urged New Yorkers to take pollution-reducing steps such as using mass transit instead of personal vehicles or carpooling.

“Automobile emissions account for about 60% of pollution in our cities,” the press release reads.

Last summer, McKim said, was a reprieve for wildfire smoke on the East Coast. There were still many wildfires in the west, but the winds were not sending their smoke this way.

In July of 2021, there was a similarly thick haze of smoke from fires in Canada that draped the region. The state issued similar warnings at the time.


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