The New York City skyline has been hidden under a veil of smoke and air pollution, originating from Canadian wildfires, for days. According to earlier reporting by the Deseret News, New York City had the worst air quality in the world on Tuesday.

Canadian wildfire smoke is expected to persist through the week, making its way westward
American cities put under air quality alerts amid Canadian wildfires

According to CNN, the smoke “has prompted authorities to issue air quality alerts down the East Coast.” New Yorkers are once again wearing face masks, likely leftover from the pandemic, and are being urged to stay inside by New York City Mayor Eric Adams, per NBC News.

“We are encouraging New Yorkers to stay indoors tonight and tomorrow, whenever possible,” Adams said in a press conference Thursday. “... All New Yorkers should limit outdoor activity to the greatest extent possible.

Several New York City schools, outdoor activities, events and even Broadway shows have been canceled due to the poor air quality. According to ABC 7, all New York City public schools are closed Thursday and Friday. Outdoor activities have also been canceled.

Actress Jodie Comer had to stop performing in her one-woman Broadway show “Prima Facie” on Wednesday, saying she had difficulty breathing, per The Hollywood Reporter. The show continued with an understudy. Productions of “Hamilton” and “Camelot” were also canceled on Wednesday evening due to the “hazardous air quality conditions,” per Playbill.

Where is the smoke over New York City coming from?

The smoke clouding New York City originated from “massive” Canadian wildfires that have been burning for the past six weeks, according to CBS News. The wildfires are across over 3.3 million hectares of land — larger than the state of Maryland, CBS News points out — and have forced mass evacuations.

According to CBS News, wildfires of this severity are rare “this early in the season.” Regardless, “Canada is on track to have its most destructive wildfire season in history.”

Why are these specific wildfires so severe? Canada, like the rest of the North America, is experiencing “record heat and drought recently as climate change continues to warm the planet,” per CBS News.

Edward Struzik, a fellow at Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen’s University in Canada and author of “Dark Days at Noon, The Future of Fire,” told CBS News that the recent fires are likely caused by lightning, which is caused by dry weather.

“Most fires in the boreal forest of northern Canada are started by lightning. A one-degree Celsius increase in temperature amounts to about 12% more lightning. So the warmer it gets as the climate heats up, the more triggers there are for fires to burn,” Struzik said.

Additionally, the dry weather is making the wildfires more difficult to put out. Per CBS News, “international liaison officers” from New Zealand, South Africa and Australia are flying to Canada to help combat the fires. U.S. firefighters are also on their way to help, President Joe Biden tweeted on Wednesday.

“We’ve deployed more than 600 U.S. firefighters, support personnel, and equipment to support Canada as they respond to record wildfires — events that are intensifying because of the climate crisis,” Biden tweeted.

How long will the smoke from Canada last?

According to CBS News, “forecasts suggest air quality will not improve substantially for a few more days.”

The smoke will clear in the U.S. once the weather pattern changes, according to Jen Carfagno, a Weather Channel meteorologist. “We have been in a blocked pattern across North America all week long,” Carfagno told CBS News.

The weather pattern is predicted to change this weekend, according to Carfagno.

How bad is the New York City air quality today?

As of today, AccuWeather categorized the air quality in New York City as “unhealthy.” The app advises New York City residents to stay inside to protect their health.

“Fine Particulate Matter are inhalable pollutant particles with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers that can enter the lungs and bloodstream, resulting in serious health issues. The most severe impacts are on the lungs and heart,” according to AccuWeather. “Exposure can result in coughing or difficulty breathing, aggravated asthma, and the development of chronic respiratory disease.”

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul echoed similar advice, according to ABC 7. “You don’t need to go out and take a walk. You don’t need to push the baby in the stroller,” Hochul said. “This is not a safe time to do that.”

According to Hochul, New York state is making available 1 million N95 masks, which will be distributed at state facilities.

How can you protect yourself from wildfire smoke?

According to Axios, those who are most at risk from the smoke are children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions. As Peter DeCarlo, associate professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University, told Axios, those with “respiratory or heart related” health issues “are most at risk.”

Here’s how you can stay safe:

  • Stay inside. If possible, try to avoid leaving your home.
  • Avoid strenuous physical activity. As DeCarlo told Axios, “limit physical activity.” Try to walk slowly “to reduce how heavily you’re breathing.”
  • Keep all windows and doors in your home closed. This will help “keep the concentration of air pollution low.”
  • Set your air conditioning to recirculate air or “shut off the outdoor intake.” This limits the outdoor air coming into your home.

If you do have to leave your home, DeCarlo recommends wearing an N95 or KN95 mask. If you’re driving anywhere, keep your windows shut at all times and make sure that your car ventilation system is set to recirculate the air in your car.