BURLINGTON, Vt. – If you went outside on Monday, there’s a good chance you noticed a haze on the horizon, or maybe even the smell of smoke in the air.
That’s because Vermont and most of the Northeast is experiencing poor air quality due to wildfires raging hundreds of miles away in Northwestern Ontario and Manitoba.
On Monday afternoon, the air in Burlington was deemed ‘unhealthy’ by AirNow.gov, and those with heart or lung disease were advised to avoid strenuous outdoor activities. Even people without those conditions were advised to limit outdoor activity until air quality improved.
You may be wondering how smoke from wildfires over 500 miles away traveled all the way to Vermont. Scott Whittier, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in South Burlington, said the same cool airflow we would normally welcome on a hot summer day is responsible for the unhealthy air quality.
“To get our pleasant weather, our pleasant summer here in the North Country, we usually like those northwest winds with temperatures in the 70s, 80s and low dew points,” Whittier said. “Well, the source region for that is Manitoba and Ontario, so when you have more of these fires going on and the wind shifts out of the northwest instead of the southwest, you’re going to see more instances of this.”
Data shows that for the past 35 years, wildfire season has been getting longer. The fires in Canada have been raging for several weeks now, and Whittier explained how climate change is making an impact.
“With climate change, there has been more drought and more wildfires in the West as well as Canada,” Whittier said. “When it’s in Canada and we have these northwest winds, we’re bound to get days like this.”
Bennet Leon, Planning Section Chief of the Air Quality & Climate Division of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, said even though wildfires are on the rise, a blanket of smoke this noticeable is still a rare phenomenon.
“It could be almost every summer that there’s some wildfire smoke that blows through Vermont, but often times it stays high in the atmosphere where it doesn’t affect people,” Leon said. “All you’ll notice is a red sunset, maybe. This is more unusual.”
Whittier and Leon expect that the smoke will dissipate in the coming days. Air quality has been deemed ‘unhealthy’ as far south as Southern Connecticut, and extends north well past Montreal.