Haze in the air: Canadian wildfire smoke settles over New England due to jetstream, prevailing winds

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On what should be a sunny blue-sky day, the view of the West Side’s familiar cityscape is clouded by smoke being pushed down from Canada, creating low visibility. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH – Don’t let the haze fool you. Monday was actually a beautiful sunny day under cloudless blue skies, but due to Canadian wildfires and prevailing winds, New Hampshire looks like it’s under a cloud of smoke.

On Monday the NH Department of Environmental Services issued an air quality warning for all of New Hampshire for both ground-level ozone and particle pollution. The “orange zone” means the air is unhealthy for those who may have respiratory diseases or other heart/lung illnesses, and advises against prolonged over-exertion.

UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS

Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion. 

People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.

National Weather Service meteorologist Hunter Tubbs said reports were coming in from around the state to his outpost in Gray, Maine, of low visibility due to the ongoing wildfires in Manitoba, Canada.

“The jetstream and prevailing winds have allowed the smoke to be transported across New England and as we’re seeing, into New Hampshire. Most of the smoke has been elevated but some of it has been brought down to the surface decreasing visibility at observing sites,” an unusual occurrence, Tubbs said.

For example, as of Monday afternoon, Nashua, Portsmouth and Concord were reporting just a two-mile visibility range; Manchester reported a four-mile visibility range. A normal visibility range should be 10 miles or more.

The haze was very evident from the NH State Rest Area in Springfield, NH on Route 89 North. Photo/Jeffrey Hastings

“Especially on a day like we’re having today which, believe it or not, is a clear day with very few clouds,” Tubbs said. The haze is making its way to Maine, where visibility is about nine miles in Lewiston and Portland, with only about a four-mile visibility in Augusta.

“Right now the smoke is moving in that direction and we will likely see visibility reduce there by tomorrow,” Tubbs said.

As for New Hampshire, the air quality warning is in effect until 10 a.m. on Tuesday around the time a front will cross through which should help clear the smoke, Tubbs said.

“In terms of how unusual it is, it’s not unusual to have elevated smoke – that is, smoke high up in the atmosphere from something like a wildfire – but it’s very unusual for it to mix down to the surface where it causes air quality and visibility issues,” Tubbs said.

Tuesday’s front should also bring through some scattered showers and, as winds shift northerly, smoke will dissipate.