NEW YORK — The effects of western wildfires were felt across the country as cities along the East Coast saw smoky skies this week.
The sun glowed with a red-orange hue as a visible haze clouded parts of New York City for a second day Wednesday. Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston all saw similarly smoky conditions, which began Tuesday.
The smoke prompted air quality alerts in much of the region as the threat of fine particulate matter was increased. In New York, the air quality index reached its 2021 high on Tuesday at levels the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers unhealthy.
Air quality conditions remained poor on Wednesday, and much of the area from Washington to Philadelphia remained under an air quality alert from the National Weather Service.
“We’re seeing lots of fires producing a tremendous amount of smoke, and … by the time that smoke gets to the eastern portion of the country where it’s usually thinned out, there’s just so much smoke in the atmosphere from all these fires that it’s still pretty thick,” said David Lawrence, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
More on wildfires:Massive Bootleg Fire burns in Oregon as officials seek outside help
The Bootleg Fire in Oregon was by far the largest, burning more than 540 square miles about 300 miles southeast of Portland in and around the Fremont-Winema National Forest.
In all, 83 large wildfires are burning across 13 states, most of them in the western U.S., the National Interagency Fire Center said Tuesday, with nearly 1.3 million acres of land affected. The fires’ smoke has traveled more than 2,700 miles to reach New York City.
Dry conditions, drought and recording breaking heat waves have all created the conditions to prompt such large blazes. Scientists agree climate change worsens these conditions and can make wildfires larger and more intense.
From fire clouds to fire tornadoes:Here’s how wildfires can create their own weather
The National Weather Service said conditions weren’t getting much better in the West, either, with the forecast for the next few days calling for “extreme drought, gusty winds, and thunderstorms.”
While haze can be common in the summer in East Coast cities like New York with air pollution and heat, wildfires from the West Coast in recent years have caused a number of smoky days.
“Over the last two years we’ve seen this phenomenon,” Lawrence said.
Air quality levels reached the point where the EPA says even the general public may feel some of the effects, which include coughing and shortness of breath. Members of sensitive groups, including people with asthma or heart disease, are at a heightened risk.
The weather service in New York said afternoon thunderstorms on Wednesday may bring some relief and help clear the skies as a cold front advances.
Contributing: Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; The Associated Press