The smoke from wildfires hundreds of miles north that turned New York into a scene of unsettling gloom on Wednesday. Arrived as if from a burning building blocks away. Draping the city in a thick and otherworldly orange-gray hue.
As smoke smothered New York City in a sepia haze. City and state officials scrambled to mount a response to the unhealthy air. They called news conferences, issued health advisories, and handed out masks.
But there was only so much that could be done. New York and other East Coast cities responded to the wildfire smoke crisis without the same protective laws. Preparedness measures and planning common in the often smoke-choked West Coast.
Even for a city that has spent years planning to deal with climate change. The inconvenience has not been a major concern. “Wildfires were not really a scenario, in all honesty, that I recall us specifically contemplating,” said Daniel Kass, who was New York City’s deputy commissioner for environmental health from 2009 to 2016.
The smoke from ferocious Canadian wildfires cast a sickly pall over much of the eastern U.S. today, worsening air quality for millions of people. The air was acrid, skylines looked orange, and municipal officials told people to stay indoors. The National Weather Service does not expect things will get much better tomorrow.
About 128 million people were under air quality alerts because of wildfire smoke and ozone in the U.S. on Wednesday night. For smog alone, around 100 million were under alerts across 16 states.
Wildfire smoke experts said that it would have been difficult to foresee such dramatic impacts on cities like New York. But that climate change is also reshaping natural hazards at a startling pace. Leaders throughout the country need to prepare better for impacts. The smoke is a reminder that it is difficult. If not impossible, to isolate from the threats associated with climate change.
Smoke-filled summers on the West Coast have pushed officials to revamp their emergency planning processes to contend with days of unhealthy or hazardous smoke.
In the Portland area, tormented by oppressive smoke in 2020, among other years. Officials have developed a playbook shared across local agencies that outlines specific actions to take. Triggered by air quality index measures. Oregon officials have adopted a similar set of measures.