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Western wildfire smoke causes East Coast haze, vivid sunsets

The smoke from dozens of wildfires in the western United States is stretching clear across the country — and even pushing into Mexico, Canada and Europe. While the dangerous plumes are forcing people inside along the West Coast, residents thousands of miles away in the East are seeing unusually hazy skies and remarkable sunsets.

The wildfires racing across tinder-dry landscape in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington are extraordinary, but the long reach of their smoke isn’t unprecedented. While there are only small pockets in the southeastern U.S. that are haze free, experts say the smoke poses less of a health concern for those who are farther away.

The sun was transformed into a perfect orange orb as it set over New York City on Tuesday. Photographs of it sinking behind the skyline and glinting through tree leaves flooded social media. On Wednesday, New Jersey residents described a yellow tinge to the overcast skies, and weather forecasters were kept busy explaining the phenomenon and making predictions as to how long the conditions would last.

On the opposite coast, air quality conditions were among some of the worst ever recorded. Smoke cloaked the Golden Gate Bridge and left Portland and Seattle in an ashy fog, as crews have exhausted themselves trying to keep the flames from consuming more homes and even wider swaths of forest.

65 PHOTOSCalifornia wildfiresSee GalleryCalifornia wildfiresIn this image taken with a slow shutter speed, embers light up a hillside behind the Bidwell Bar Bridge as the Bear Fire burns in Oroville, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)MONROVIA, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 15: Michael Kunch uses a garden hose to water down his roof as a protective measure as the Bobcat Fire burns down a nearby hillside on September 15, 2020 in Monrovia, California. Kunch’s property was not damaged. California’s national forests remain closed due to wildfires which have already incinerated a record 2.5 million acres this year. The Bobcat Fire, burning in the San Gabriel Mountains, has grown to over 40,000 acres. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)A tree casts embers as the North Complex Fire burns in Plumas National Forest, Calif., on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)Flames lick above vehicles on Highway 162 as the Bear Fire burns in Oroville, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)A bicycle burns on an unattended property near Del Dios Highway in the Rancho Santa Fe area of San Diego, California October 23, 2007. Wildfires stoked by fierce winds burned unchecked across Southern California for a third day on Tuesday with 300,000 people in San Diego alone evacuated as flames destroyed or threatened homes from humble forest cabins to luxury villas. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES)Also see GF2DWTIKDNAAA firefighter puts out a hot spot along Highway 38 northwest of Forrest Falls, Calif., as the El Dorado Fire continues to burn Thursday afternoon, Sept. 10, 2020. The fire started by a device at a gender reveal party on Saturday. (Will Lester/The Orange County Register/SCNG via AP)Firefighters watch the Bear Fire approach in Oroville, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)A plume rises from the Bear Fire as it burns along Lake Oroville on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Butte County, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)A scorched car rests in a clearing following the Bear Fire in Butte County, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)An air tanker drops retardant at a wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)Smoke and haze from wildfires partially obscures the view of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)Fresno County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeffery Shipman, left, stands along California State Highway 168 as the Creek Fire burns in the near vicinity, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)The Creek Fire burns in the Sierra National Forest, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, near Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Firefighters stage near a Southern California Edison power station to protect it from the advancing Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)A firefighter covers himself from flying embers while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Members of the Laguna Hotshots, out of the Cleveland National Forest, walk down a hillside while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)TOPSHOT – A charred swing set and car are seen after the passage of the Santiam Fire in Gates, Oregon, on September 10, 2020. – California firefighters battled the state’s largest ever inferno on September 10, as tens of thousands of people fled blazes up and down the US West Coast and officials warned the death toll could shoot up in coming days. At least eight people have been confirmed dead in the past 24 hours across California, Oregon and Washington, but officials say some areas are still impossible to reach, meaning the number is likely to rise. (Photo by Kathryn ELSESSER / AFP) (Photo by KATHRYN ELSESSER/AFP via Getty Images)A firefighter uses a hose to try to extinguish flames from a burning structure while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Members of the Laguna Hotshots, out of the Cleveland National Forest, monitor hot spots while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)A member of the Laguna Hotshots, out of the Cleveland National Forest, monitors flames caused by the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Smoke from the Bobcat Fire is seen from California State Highway 39 in Azusa, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020 The heat wave was expected to spread triple-digit temperatures over much of California through Monday. Temperatures in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles reached 116 degrees (46 Celsius) for the second day in a row, forecasters said. (AP Photo/Christian Monterrosa)Gabe Huck, right, a member of a San Benito Monterey Cal Fire crew, stands along state Highway 168 while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Smoke from wildfires clouds the sky over greater Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, as seen from Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/John Antczak)Firefighters ignite a controlled burn with drip torches while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)A firefighter runs along state Highway 168 with a flare as part of a controlled burn to fight the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Firefighter Ricardo Gomez, of a San Benito Monterey Cal Fire crew, sets a controlled burn with a drip torch while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)CORRECTS MONTH TO SEPTEMBER INSTEAD OF AUGUST – People load water into their car in front of a Trader Joe’s grocery store as smoke from the Bobcat Fire rises in the background, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Azusa, Calif. (AP Photo/Christian Monterrosa)A firefighter watches the advancing Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Firefighters stage along the lake while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)A firefighter walks along state Highway 168 with a drip torch during a controlled burn to fight the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)A firefighter uses a drip torch to ignite a controlled burn as he fights the Creek Fire along state Highway 168, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Smoke from the Creek Fire fills the air over a boating dock, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Gabe Huck, a member of a San Benito Monterey Cal Fire crew, walks along state Highway 168 while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Los Angeles Fire Department personnel work to douse several small brush fires in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters hike into the Sepulveda Basin to fight a brush fire in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)A Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter makes a water drop over a brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)A Los Angeles fire department helicopter makes a water drop over a brush fire at the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was ablaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters make their way into the Sepulveda Basin to fight a brush fire in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)An air tanker drops retardant at a wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)Smoke rises from a wildfire burning at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A firefighter works on hotspot at a wildfire in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A helicopter drops water at wildfire burns near homes at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A helicopter drops water at wildfire burns near homes at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)Los Angeles fire department firefighters work to put out a brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)Los Angeles fire department firefighters work to put out a brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)Los Angeles fire department firefighter works to douse the remains of a brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)A Los Angeles fire department helicopter makes a water drop over a brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)Los Angeles fire department firefighters hike into the Sepulveda Basin to fight a brush fire in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)A helicopter prepares to drop water at a wildfire in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A wildfire burns near homes in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)Firefighters rest during a wildfire in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A firefighter works on hotspots at a wildfire in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)An air tanker drops retardant at a wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)An air tanker drops retardant at a wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A plane drops retardant at a wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A wildfire burns in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)An orange sky filled with wildfire smoke hangs above hiking trails at the Limeridge Open Space in Concord, California, on September 9, 2020. – Dangerous dry winds whipped up California’s record-breaking wildfires and ignited new blazes, as hundreds were evacuated by helicopter and tens of thousands were plunged into darkness by power outages across the western United States. (Photo by Brittany HOSEA-SMALL / AFP) (Photo by BRITTANY HOSEA-SMALL/AFP via Getty Images)SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPT. 9: San Francisco City Hall is seen under a sky glowing orangedue to smoke from the wildfires on Wednesday, September 9, 2020 in San Francisco, Calif. (Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)A law enforcement officer watches flames launch into the air as fire continues to spread during the Bear fire in Oroville, California on September 9, 2020. – Dangerous dry winds whipped up California’s record-breaking wildfires and ignited new blazes, as hundreds were evacuated by helicopter and tens of thousands were plunged into darkness by power outages across the western United States. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)A boat motors by as the Bidwell Bar Bridge is surrounded by fire in Lake Oroville during the Bear fire in Oroville, California on September 9, 2020. – Dangerous dry winds whipped up California’s record-breaking wildfires and ignited new blazes Tuesday, as hundreds were evacuated by helicopter and tens of thousands were plunged into darkness by power outages across the western United States. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)OAKLAND, CA – SEPT. 9 This photo of the Mormon Temple, taken with a daylight white balance, shows the effect of smoke from surrounding wildfires in the sky above Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, September 09, 2020. (Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)NAPA, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 09: Golfers warm up on the driving range during the preview day of the Safeway Open at Silverado Country Club on September 9, 2020 in Napa, California. Wildfires rage throughout the state as record high temperatures and dry vegetation fuel the fast-moving, destructive blazes.(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)A firefighter works at the scene of the Bobcat Fire burning on hillsides near Monrovia Canyon Park in Monrovia, California on September 15, 2020. – A major fire that has been raging outside Los Angeles for more than a week threatened to engulf a historic observatory and billion-dollar broadcast towers on September 15 as firefighters struggled to contain the flames. The so-called Bobcat Fire was within 500 feet (150 meters) from the 116-year-old Mt. Wilson Observatory, the US Forest Service said in a tweet, while fire officials said crews were in place “ready to receive the fire.” (Photo by RINGO CHIU / AFP) (Photo by RINGO CHIU/AFP via Getty Images)Cal Fire Battalion Chief Craig Newell carries hose while battling the North Complex Fire in Plumas National Forest, Calif., on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)Up Next

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Satellite images showed that smoke from the wildfires has traveled almost 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) to Britainand other parts of northern Europe, scientists said Wednesday.

The current weather system, which favors a westerly wind across the higher levels of the atmosphere, is to blame for the reach of the smoke, experts explained.

“We always seem, at times, to get the right combination of enough smoke and the upper level jet stream to line up to bring that across the country, so we’re just seeing this again,” said Matt Solum with the National Weather Service’s regional operations center in Salt Lake City, Utah. “It’s definitely not the first time this has happened.”

There could be some easing of the haze this weekend as a storm system is expected to move into the Pacific Northwest and could affect the conditions that helped the smoke travel across the country. But Solum said there’s always a chance for more smoke and haze to shift around.

“Just due to all the wildfires that are going on, this is likely going to continue for a while,” he said. “You might have ebbs and flows of that smoke just depending on how the upper level winds set up.”

Kim Knowlton, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York City, said she woke up Wednesday to a red sunrise and more haze.

She said millions of people who live beyond the flames can end up dealing with diminished air quality as it’s not uncommon for wildfire smoke to travel hundreds of miles.

Although the health impacts are reduced the farther and higher into the atmosphere the smoke travels, Knowlton and her colleagues said the resulting haze can exacerbate existing problems like asthma and add to ozone pollution.

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