Rain could relieve the park of hazy skies and polluted air
By Chloe Bennett
Adirondackers woke Tuesday morning to hazy skies and the smoky smell of fire. In Quebec, 152 confirmed wildfires are sending smoke down to the Northeast after lightning strikes ignited woodlands in the province last Saturday.
The Department of Environmental Conservation issued air quality advisories Monday and Tuesday notifying people in New York of severe air pollution. In the Adirondacks, the Air Quality Index measured 167 Tuesday morning, which is considered unhealthy for people with respiratory illnesses or heart conditions.
The wildfires could last all summer according to Quebec elected official François Legault. Scott McKim, research support specialist with the University at Albany’s Atmospheric Sciences Research Center Whiteface Mountain Field Station, said smoke could hang over the Adirondacks for a while, though the exact timeline is unpredictable.
Rain might clear the skies, McKim said, but forecast models are especially unreliable right now. Rain had been expected this week, including on Tuesday morning, but held off. McKim said that could be because wildfire smoke acts as a cloud, reducing heat from the sun and blocking the rise of air, which produces precipitation.
“All that leads to say that the forecast models a really hard time handling the smoke,” McKim said. “They think it should be hotter and therefore more rising air and more rain.”
Adirondack locals and visitors generally spend many hours outdoors, but that may have to change this week. DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a press conference that hikers should avoid strenuous activity right now: “Keep it inside until the air clears. And if you don’t, you’re bringing your health into question.”
Data collected from the atmospheric center show just how severe the smoke is. Black carbon, a byproduct of wood burning, has shot up significantly in the atmosphere. On cold days, McKim said, black carbon levels can peak at 100 nanograms. Right now it’s at 2,000.
As of Monday, 114 fires in Quebec were deemed out of control. No human lives have been lost to the fires, the Montreal Gazette reported.
Although the burn ban season is over, Seggos said, any outdoor burning should be limited because of the state’s dry conditions and high risk of forest fires.
“To the extent that New Yorkers can avoid exacerbating that by adding to the pollution at the local level, they should,” Seggos said.