New York hit first place for the worst air quality in the world again Thursday thanks to the continuing wildfires in Canada — and although relief will come this weekend, the coming months could be as smoky as a backyard barbecue.
“Get used to these episodes of smoke and haze through the summer,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson told USA Today.
National Weather Service meteorologist Bryan Ramsey gave the same troubling prognosis to the paper, as he predicted that fires in remote locations in the Great White North will continue to smolde, sending occasional plumes our way.
“Since the fires are raging, they’re really large, they’re probably going to continue for weeks,” Ramsey said. “It’s really just going be all about the wind shift.”
The city’s air quality index was still the worst of any major world city Thursday morning — with an “unhealthy” rating of 183 out of 500. And forecasters said it could get a little worse later in the day before improving.
“Even though it is improving out there we still could get another burst of it – still nothing like we had yesterday though,” Fox Forecast Center meteorologist Brian Mastro said Thursday morning, adding that the conditions should gradually improve until the city would see a normal air quality index of below 50 by Sunday.
On Wednesday afternoon, the air quality index (AQI) for the city had reached an extremely high 405 out of 500 as a thick orange haze descended on the boroughs, making them resemble Mars. It will not get near that today.
“Even though we’re still in the unhealthy range, that’s two levels down from where we were yesterday,” Mastro said Thursday morning, touting a “significant improvement.”
Mayor Adams concurred Thursday morning, saying although a “sea breeze” could push the smoke back over the city, “smoke models are not indicating another large plum” during the day. Friday the smoke was expected to get better and start dissipating over the weekend with Sunday basically back to normal, Mastro said.
Still, there was the possibility that New Yorkers could be choked by more rounds of smoke from the nearly 150 wildfires burning in Quebec in the weeks to come.
“If we get another northerly wind from Canada in the coming weeks, then we could still have smoke, especially if it’s been so dry in Canada and a lot of those fires aren’t really … put out,” Fox Weather Meteorologist Marissa Lautenbacher said.
“Coming next week we should have some rain to help, you know quell some of it… the thing is it’s just been so dry especially in May, also in Canada as well,” she added.
“The wildfires themselves probably won’t be extinguished in the coming days, so there is still the threat of smoke in the coming weeks, but just like in short term the smoke won’t be as bad in the coming days.”
The dangerous situation contributing to a uncrowded commute as many employees opted to work from home even as state officials distributed a million N95 masks in an attempt to mitigate the risks.
At Grand Central Terminal, a woman was handing out the respirators to anyone that braved the conditions and came into Midtown Manhattan Thursday.
Those who made the journey said it was not business as usual.
“Very few people on my train. Definitely no challenge getting a seat today!,” said cyber security worker Stu Saffer, 49, who wore an N95 on his commute from Port Chester.
“It was like commuting during a holiday. It’s strange to me that so many people headed the warning the air quality warning but then the people who came in, the vast majority of them, weren’t wearing masks. Not too smart considering what they’re telling us about the air quality today.”
David Marshall, 28, a chef at nearby law firm, had a similar experience while riding the subway into Grand Central Station from the Van Cortlandt Village section of the Bronx — where he said most straphangers were masked up.
“I never get a seat! I even bought this little fold-out chair because there is no way I would ever get a seat. Today it was easy to get a seat. Definitely less than half the people normally on the train. Majority of people wearing masks, especially out on the street.”
Across town at Pennsylvania Station, many commuters said they were concerned for their health.
“There is a lot of ash in the air. There is a lot of smoke in the air. Yesterday I was feeling lightheaded so I said what’s the harm – just put it [a mask] on,” said Josh, 34, who took the LIRR into Manhattan for work.
“I just figured wearing the mask – why not? I did it for two years with COVID. It can’t hurt a couple more days. I just want to be safe. I’m keeping my eyes on the app showing the air quality and when I think it’s at a safe level, I’ll take it off and see how I feel and that’ll be that.”
Christina Elizabeth, 66, a doctor who commuted from Woodmere on the railroad, agreed.
“If they say it’s not safe, I’d rather wear the mask. It’s not inconvenient at all. “Tomorrow I’m not going to be wearing it because I’m staying at home and I am going to stay inside but if I’m going out I’ll wear it. I’ll recommend people do the same” she said.
Catherine Ardis, 35, works in an optometrist office and suffers from asthma. She was happy to receive a free mask.
“I came to work on Monday and I started coughing. I had no idea what was going on. On Tuesday I was dying at work – coughing, coughing. Yesterday I called out and I have been sick since. It’s a big deal for me,” Ardis said.
“Just with the lungs – a lot of dry coughing. I absolutely think it is from this because of when it started. It smells like a campfire. I’m happy for this mask,” she said, holding it up.
“I’m asthmatic and I still can’t breathe. I was wearing the regular mask because it’s all that I had at home but I do believe this is the one that can help you. So I’m really happy he gave it to me. I’m going to wear a mask until this is over. I have to worry about the long-term effect. They say it’s like smoking six cigarettes at once. I have been inhaling this for the last four days, so I am not a smoker so hopefully everything goes well,” she said.
“I went to the doctor yesterday. They told me I had something with my bronchi. I’m probably going to get a check up next week.”
Meanwhile, forecasters warned the smoke conditions could be exacerbated this summer by an early forming El Nino, which is marked by warmer than average ocean temperatures in the Pacific that shift weather patterns across the globe.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the climate condition Thursday, saying there is a 56% chance this years El Nino would be strong and a 25% chance it would reach supersized levels.
Such an occurrence would spike global temperatures — which makes the quality of smoke-clogged air worse — but also bring much-needed rain storms to drought-stricken areas and ease wildfires.
With Post wires