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Northeast Smoke & Climate Change

The social media posts that came out of Central New York (CNY) last week told the story.

“(This) is something I don’t recall ever seeing before. We can even smell the wildfire smoke inside our building,” wrote one Syracuse resident on Twitter.

From there, reactions ranged from humorous to borderline heartbreaking. “Your air stinks; take it back,” wrote a resident of the small CNY city of Oneida.

Later that evening, he wrote, “Eyes are on fire, headache is legendary. I’ll be hiding in my bedroom,” while another user commented the intense smoke was causing her to vomit.

On June 6 and 7, thick clouds of acrid smoke poured into the region, clogging the air, choking air conditioners, and even sending some folks to the hospital. Residents flipped on their porch lights and ran their headlights in the middle afternoon to cope with the thick brown haze.
By the evening of June 7, the Air Quality Index (AQI) levels hit 460 across the area from Oneida to Auburn, well above the threshold for a “hazardous” classification by the DEC.

The cause of this air quality disaster, one of the worst the northeast has seen in decades, was an “unprecedented” wildfire event in central Quebec more than 400 miles to the north. As northerly winds drove the smoke southward upstate New York last week, schools across CNY canceled outdoor activities, and officials warned residents to take precautions, including keeping windows and doors closed, bringing pets indoors, avoiding the use of air conditioning and wearing an N95 mask if they had to go outside.

Jason Koon