As it happenedended1688132274

Wildfire smoke leaves 100 million under air quality alerts as nine Texas prison inmates die in heatwave

People living in the Midwest and Northeast were warned of a worsening air quality index throughout the week due to smoke from the Canadian wildfires

Oliver O'Connell,Ariana Baio
Friday 30 June 2023 14:37 BST
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Canadian wildfires spread haze over New York City

The US is currently battling extreme weather events, with millions of people under air quality alerts across the Midwest and Northeast while southern states including Texas are battling dangerous heatwaves.

Smoke from more than 500 wildfires burning in Canada is blanketing large areas across the country and causing “unhealthy” to “very unhealthy” air quality conditions for residents.

As of early Friday morning, more than 100 million people were under air quality alerts.

Toronto had the worst air quality in the world of all major cities, followed by Washington DC, according to IQAir.

Meanwhile, almost 60 million people were under heat alerts on Wednesday as “dangerous” temperatures continued to grip southern states and parts of Mexico.

The relentless, triple-digit heatwave – exacerbated by the climate crisis – entered its third week. The severe conditions have caused 13 deaths in Texas and led to a spike in emergency room attendance across the state.

At least nine inmates – including two men in their 30s – in Texas prisons have died of heart attacks or unknown causes since the start of the sweltering heatwave.

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Where are the wildfires burning in Canada?

There are 480 wildfires currently burning in all 13 provinces and territories in Canada, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. 

Nearly half of the wildfires are considered “out of control”.

Hundreds of wildfires are burning across the breadth of Canada this week as air quality plummeted

Most of the fires are in the provinces of Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta.

Ariana Baio28 June 2023 18:20
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What is the heat index and why does it matter?

The National Weather Service issued excessive heat warnings in parts of the Southern United States, claiming the heat index can reach past 110°F (46°C).

Though the actual temperature may be in the 90 - 100 degree range, the humidity of the air contributes to how hot it may feel to humans – this is known as the heat index.

“The heat index, also known as the apparent temperature, is what the temperature feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with the air temperature,” the National Weather Service says.

This is important because when the human body is hot it sweats as a way to cool off. But if it’s too humid for sweat to evaporate then the body cannot regulate temperature well.

The higher the index the more likely or experiencing a heat disorder like heat stroke.

Ariana Baio28 June 2023 18:40
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Smoke expected to move south and east

The smoke lingering over the Midwestern part of the US is expected to move south and east in the coming days.

Residents in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York have been warned of worsening air quality conditions.

Ariana Baio28 June 2023 19:00
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Joe Biden arrives in Chicago to smoky conditions

President Joe Biden arrived at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport on Wednesday afternoon to hazy conditions due to smoke from the Canadian wildfires.

Photos of Mr Biden showed him departing from Air Force One with the blurry Chicago skyline in the background.

Mr Biden was speaking in Chicago about his economic plan.

President Joe Biden arrives at O’Hare International Airport where smoke from Canadian wildfires has blanketed the city

Ariana Baio28 June 2023 19:15
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What is a heat dome? Scorching temperatures in Texas are expected to spread

Scorching temperatures brought on by a “heat dome” have taxed the Texas power grid and threaten to bring record highs to the state before they are expected to expand during the coming week, putting even more people at risk.

“Going forward, that heat is going to expand ... north to Kansas City and the entire state of Oklahoma, into the Mississippi Valley ... to the far western Florida Panhandle and parts of western Alabama,” while remaining over Texas, said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service.

Record high temperatures around 110° F (43° C) are forecast in parts of western Texas on Monday and relief is not expected before the Fourth of July holiday, Mr Oravec said.

A heat dome occurs when stationary high pressure with warm air combines with warmer than usual air in the Gulf of Mexico and heat from the sun that is nearly directly overhead, Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said.

“By the time we get into the middle of summer, it’s hard to get the hot air aloft,” Mr Nielsen-Gammon, a professor at Texas A&M’s College of Atmospheric Sciences said. “If it’s going to happen, this is the time of year it will.”

Ariana Baio28 June 2023 19:30
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Texas grid expects record power use as brutal heat continues

The Texas grid operator was expecting to hit record electricity use on Wednesday as the state battles prolonged, brutal heat.

The heatwave is expected to persist across much of Texas along with eastern and southern parts of New Mexico possibly into next week, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

Houston, the state’s largest city, will reach 99 degrees Fahrenheit (F) on Wednesday – six degrees hotter than normal for this time of year, forecasters said.

In south and west Texas, temperatures soared into the triple digits. San Angelo hit an all-time high of 114F on Tuesday, NWS reported.

Louise Boyle reports:

Texas grid expects record power use as brutal heat continues

The city of San Angelo hit 112F on Tuesday, breaking its all-time high of 111F

Ariana Baio28 June 2023 19:45
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Surface smoke from Canadian wildfires expected to move east

A map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed the expected path of the surface smoke from the Canadian wildfires moving away from Chicago and the Midwest and toward Pennsylvania and New York.

Upper New York cities like Buffalo and Rochester may face poor air quality conditions in the coming days as the map shows the smoke moving east and north.

Surface smoke from the wildfires in Canada is expected to travel from Chicago toward Pittsburgh and Buffalo

However, wind patterns can change the direction of the wildfire smoke.

Ariana Baio28 June 2023 20:00
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Cleveland cancels all events due to poor air quality

The city of Cleveland cancelled all outdoor events on Wednesday due to the poor air quality caused by smoke from wildfires in Canada.

By 3pm EDT on Wednesday, the air quality index (AQI) had reached 245 which is considered “very unhealthy”.

Mayor Justin Bibb posted on Instagram telling locals to be careful when going outdoors.

“Especially those with heart and breathing issues,” Mr Bibb wrote.

Ariana Baio28 June 2023 20:15
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Climate protesters call on Biden to ‘declare a climate emergency’

As President Joe Biden arrived at the JW Marriott in Chicago on Wednesday, protestors outside of the building called on the president to declare a climate emergency, according to a report from the White House reporting pool.

“As pool entered, we could hear chants and see signs of protesters demanding that Biden declare a climate emergency,” the report said.

Chicago experienced the worst air quality in the world on Tuesday due to smoke from the Canadian wildfires.

As parts of the Midwest grappled with the air conditions, millions of Americans in the South are experiencing dangerous heat waves.

Ariana Baio28 June 2023 20:24
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Where are wildfires burning in Canada right now?

Air quality has plummeted again this week across large parts of the United States and Canada as hundreds of wildfires rage out of control north of the border.

There are 480 fires burning throughout the country, according to the Canadian Interagency Fire Center, with one new fire igniting on Wednesday.

Some 237 fires are burning out-of-control and impacting provinces and territories from coast to coast. The blazes are impacting 10 provinces, two territories and national parks.

Ariana Baio and Louise Boyle report:

Where are wildfires burning in Canada right now?

There are 480 fires burning across Canada

Ariana Baio28 June 2023 21:00

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