It’s just weird: NNY skies hazy, strong smell in air

Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 11:49 AM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Much of the north country looked like an ‘end of the world’ movie Tuesday, as smoke from Canadian wildfires drifted south, leaving a haze and a strong smell hanging in the air.

“Very concerning this morning initially, whether it was a house fire. I was confused. But it was unique,” said Jim Briggs.

Arguably the most eye-catching symptom of the smoke - the sun which took on an unusual color.

“The sky is kind of fun to look at. We were staring right at the sun to begin with; it was just this dim pink,” said Warren Denny.

Listening to the police/fire scanner Tuesday morning, you could hear calls for things like fire alarms being set off, just by what’s in the air.

The state has issued an air quality health advisory for Tuesday and Wednesday.

An air expert from Clarkson University points out that northern New York’s air quality index usually reads in the 30s, but it’s hovering anywhere between 150 and 200.

“Above 100 you’re now getting into unhealthy air. 200 it’s very unhealthy,” said Professor Suresh Dhaniyala.

Dr. Joseph Wetterhahn with Watertown’s Samaritan Health says the air isn’t dangerous to most people but folks with underlying conditions could be at a greater risk.

“Someone with asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease. Certainly, anybody who wears supplemental oxygen for a medical condition, they should be indoors trying to reduce their exposure,” he said.

The National Weather Service cautions “individuals consider limiting strenuous outdoor physical activity to reduce the risk of adverse health effects.

“People who may be especially sensitive to the effects of elevated levels of pollutants include the very young and those with pre-existing respiratory problems such as asthma or heart disease.”

Schools and organizations canceled activities, including Watertown American Little League.

“With underlying health conditions like asthma, even kids that don’t know they have asthma since they start playing at such a young age, it’s not worth the risk,” said Angie Evans, president, Watertown American Little League.

More than eight million acres in Canada have burned, according to the Wall Street Journal, causing what we see and feel Tuesday. The fires are concentrated in Quebec and Ontario.

The country is on track for its worst wildfire season ever, the Journal reported. A typical fire season burns 600,000 acres, compared to 8.1 million acres this year.