Smoke from Canadian forest fires spread across the central and eastern US on Thursday, disrupting air travel as well as work and school routines for the second consecutive day.
Millions of people in cities including New York, Philadelphia and Washington woke up to air pollution from the fires, leading them to put on masks used during the coronavirus emergency. New York’s air quality was again among the worst of big global cities, according to the IQAir World Air Quality index.
In a statement president Joe Biden said the US environmental regulator was “continuously” monitoring air quality across the country. “This morning millions of Americans are experiencing the effects of smoke resulting from devastating wildfires burning in Canada, another stark reminder of the impacts of climate change,” the president said.
Mr Biden said he had directed the National Interagency Fire Center to assist the Canadian government with any requests for more firefighters and air tankers.
Canada has been battling an active wildfire season with blazes in most of its 10 provinces and its territories for most of the past month. More than 400 fires were active across Canada this week, with about four million hectares burnt so far this year, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.
Mr Biden called Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday to offer “additional support” in responding to the fires.
Inbound flights to New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Philadelphia International Airport were halted at one point on Thursday due to the smoke. Ground stops and delays have primarily interrupted flights from the northeast, mid-Atlantic and Ohio. All flights nationwide into Newark Liberty International Airport were delayed. “Reduced visibility from wildfire smoke will continue to impact air travel today,” the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The National Weather Service said the smoke would push southwards and westwards, worsening air quality in Alabama and Georgia on Friday.
New York City schools said students would take lessons remotely on Friday. In Washington the White House said it would postpone a pride event due to take place on the South Lawn until Saturday. People in the nation’s capital were warned to avoid outdoor activities.
Earlier this spring fires in Canada’s main oil-producing province of Alberta forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes and caused more than a dozen oil and gas companies to temporarily shut or curtail operations. More blazes have now taken hold in the forests of eastern provinces such as Quebec.
Scientists have observed fires in the boreal forests of the northern hemisphere increasing in intensity over the past decade. Average temperatures across the north of the planet have risen faster than closer to the equator as a result of global warming as the reflective snow and ice of the Arctic melts away.
The past month ranked globally as the second warmest May on record, according to the Copernicus EU observation service. Heat records have been broken in parts of Asia, in particular in China and Vietnam, where the unusually warm weather began months ahead of the usual July and August summer. Parts of Siberia also set all-time records last week.
Sea surface temperatures were the highest on record for the month.
The El Niño phenomenon, resulting in a warming effect across the Pacific Ocean, was on Thursday officially declared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Meteorologists expect the weather system to increase global temperatures, potentially leading to a record warm year in 2023, and to contribute to extremes such as fires, droughts, floods and hurricanes. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023