Smoke visible from west coast wildfires, ground level air quality unaffected

The smoke is mostly visible during sunrise and sunset, as shown in your viewer photos.

By: Tim Studebaker

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – We’ve received many viewer photos this week, showing an uncommon sight here in southern New England.  Wildfire smoke, all the way from the west coast, taking an otherwise blue sky day and replacing it with a smoky haze.

Darren Austin is an Air Quality Specialist with the Rhode Island DEM.

Austin says, “I can’t say I’ve ever seen, when looking at some of the analysis, I’ve ever seen the country this enveloped in smoke.”

He says while west coast wildfire smoke is rare here, it’s not the first time the skies have been hazy with smoke in our area.

Austin says, “It does usually remain aloft.  The most common time we see it is from Canadian wildfires in the springtime.”

And while the sight may be jarring, it’s important to understand this week’s smoke is very high up in the atmosphere.  A piece of the DEM’s equipment in East Providence, called LIDAR, uses laser light to measure the height of the smoke particles.

Austin says, “It started about 5,000 meters, got down to maybe 4,000 meters, 3,500 meters.  As of right now, we don’t think it’s going to get to the surface.”

That’s more than 11,000 to 16,000 feet above our heads.  Down here at ground level, the DEM has equipment all around the state monitoring the air quality every day.

Austin says, “Air quality’s been very good the past two days.  Basically, our numbers are showing it’s really as good as air quality gets around here.”

He says smoke from distant wildfires rarely causes problems at ground level, but smoke from closer fires can.

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© WLNE-TV / ABC6 2020

Categories: Massachusetts, News, Regional News, Rhode Island