BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Hazy, grey skies are back again this week in Western New York. It’s all caused by wildfire smoke from Quebec.
Many of us are used to lake effect cloud cover and grey skies through the winter months. Experts say these smoky conditions may look similar, but are very different. This pesky weather pattern is here to stay this week, making for milky skies, vivid sunsets and potentially dangerous air conditions.
“I can’t recall anything this bad in the past 10 years in terms of air quality at least for particulates from smoke,” Steve Seman, assistant teaching professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, told News 4.
Wildfire smoke from north of Montreal has made its way to Western New York again. Satellite images show the fires are less than 500 miles away, meaning there is a thick layer of smoke from the upper atmosphere to the ground. Wildfires in western Canada brought similar conditions to the region recently; however, because of the distance, particulate matter was measured near the ground. Because the fires in Quebec are significantly closer to Buffalo, dangerous particles are making their way to the surface.
“These fires are obviously a lot closer. The winds through a pretty deep layer in the atmosphere are blowing them right into the northeastern U.S. As the smoke goes up, it is drifting southward. Pretty much immediately,” Seman explained.
A low pressure system off the coast of Maine and New England is creating a northerly wind flow ushering in the smoke and particles. The low pressure creates counterclockwise rotation, promoting this dry air moving into the region.
Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) is a measurement of harmful air particles in the air. Experts say Western New York has surpassed what is normal and safe, creating air quality alerts across the region.
“In Buffalo area, it is usually around a five or below five, which is clean air, but today, I can see that many places it is already 40 or higher,” Dr. Meng Wang, environmental health professor at the University at Buffalo, added.
“California usually has those. I’m from New Mexico and we always have these warnings. It’s part of nature. It happens. I don’t think it is something to worry about,” Erin Malin of Buffalo said.
Pictures from across the region show a milky sky with vivid sunrises and sunsets.
“I don’t like the events that led up to it. I hate to hear about wildfires, but at least it added a new natural phenomenon for us to see,” Jason Rich of Buffalo added.
“It looks like its just really cloudy, but then if you look closer, you can see it low to the ground. The colors are a little bit different, just a little bit more red and grey,” Madeleine Callanan of Buffalo continued.
“It’s been an unusual pattern that has kept the smoke coming into the northeast and it has also helped the dry conditions to persist, which can increase the wildfire risk in the northeast,” Seman said.
An air quality alert is in effect until midnight on Tuesday for most of the region. The haze will likely stick around for most of this week and experts say it is important to stay inside, use the air conditioner to cool off and avoid over exerting yourself outside.
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Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy-nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.