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The haze that’s adding a grayish tinge to Philly skies that should be their bluest blue this time of year could stick around until the West Coast gets some rain, according to the National Weather Service.
Smoke from the massive fires raging across California, Oregon and Washington that wafted into the upper atmosphere and was pushed cross-country by strong winds has noticeably obscured the sun in Philadelphia since Monday. Sunsets have been so dim they almost seem like you can peer directly into them (don’t).
That’s also why the air temperature has been unseasonably low this week, per Dean Iovino, lead meteorologist at NWS Mt. Holly, the service’s regional outpost. The haze blocks the solar radiation that usually warms the Earth, he said.
When will things clear up to reveal those sparkling fall skies? That depends on what Mother Nature does 3,000 miles away.
“So long as the fires are burning [on the West Coast], there’s a potential that the smoke could reach us,” Iovino told Billy Penn.
The Pacific Northwest is forecast to get some rain soon, which should help get the actively burning blazes under some control, and to quell the spread of their smoke.
Thursday’s mostly cloudy skies do mask the ongoing haze somewhat, and Iovino said a change in air mass Friday could push the smoke southward for a spell. However, that would only be temporary, he said, warning the smoke could return to the Philadelphia area over the weekend.
Philly air is affected by fires burning as far away as western Canada about once a year, Iovino said. What’s unprecedented is the severity of this year’s wildfire season.
More than 5 million acres have been scorched across the western seaboard. In Oregon alone, the record-breaking year has seen megafires (aka those burning more than 100k acres) spread across more than 1 million acres.
These fires are known to have killed at least 35 people, with many others missing.
“They’re having one of the roughest years on record out there,” Iovino said. “The smoke is reaching us and kind of affecting us for several days in a row.”
An interactive map by NBC News puts the scale into perspective the scale.
The Beachie Creek fire in Oregon, for example, was 295 square miles as of Sunday, Sept. 13, more than twice the size of Philadelphia. In Washington State, the Pearl Hill fire was about 350 square miles as of Sunday, more than 2.5 times as big as Philly. On Sunday, California’s August Complex fire was nearly 800 square miles — almost six times the city’s land area.
While the blazes are decimating air quality in the west, they’re not necessarily affecting local breathability. The Eastern Seaboard smoke is staying between 10k to 20k feet up, Iovino said, and therefore has a limited impact on air quality in Philadelphia.