Updated: July 21, 2021 02:00 PM
Created: July 21, 2021 12:52 PM
Did you notice thick, hazy skies yesterday? Or maybe a very vibrant sunrise or sunset? Well, it might surprise you, but that was all caused by wildfire smoke that could be from over 2,500 miles away…
On Tuesday, July 20th, 2021, wildfire smoke from over 100 wildfires in the western United States and southern Canada hung over the northeast. Because smoke particles are so small and light, they can be transported easily across far distances. In this case, the jet stream helped transport them across the country and downwind of the wildfires. This led to hazy skies and bright sunrises and sunsets in the northeast. Because the particles within the smoke scatter the shorter wavelengths of visible light, we are left with the longer wavelengths that are able to pass directly through the smoke and reach our eyes. This is why we see the red and orange colors that make the sunset or sunrise so vibrant.
This wildfire smoke is made up of a mixture of gases and fine particles leftover from burning plants, trees, and buildings, and can be very dangerous to your health if inhaled. These fine inhalable particles are known as atmospheric particulate matter, or PM2.5, because they are generally smaller than 2.5 micrometers and can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. This smoke and the pollutant particles within it led to air quality alerts issued all along the east coast.
Air quality is measured on a scale of 0 to 500, and the greater the number, the greater the level of air pollution and thus the greater the public health risk. This number is known as the Air Quality Index, or the AQI. An AQI of 50 or below represents good air quality, and an AQI of 100 or above represents unhealthy air for sensitive groups. This includes the elderly, children, and those with asthma, heart or lung disease, and all other breathing problems. When the AQI continues to rise further above 100, all people should limit time spent outdoors. The six AQI categories can be seen below:
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