Huntingdon County residents have likely noticed more of a haze in the sky and more brilliant sunsets these past few days.
The reason — the large number of wildfires currently burning in the western parts of the U.S..
David Martin, meteorologist with the National Weather Service bureau in State College, discussed why these fires are having an impact on the skies on the East Coast and in the area.
“With the large amount of fires burning, especially in the western parts of the U.S. and western Canada, it’s been dry and hot, which caused these fires to be more widespread,” he said. “It puts a lot of smoke into the atmosphere, and with winds in the right direction, it causes the smoke to come as far as the East Coast.”
Martin noted that winds are currently in a westerly direction right now, and when the winds change, the smoke will likely go into different directions, which in turn could potentially have an impact on other parts of the East Coast.
“They are becoming more northwesterly, which could push smoke off shore and could change the smoke levels,” he said. “The winds blow at different directions at different heights. The wind off the ocean could be clean air, but the upper level winds could be in a totally different direction.”
The haze seen in the air, combined with other factors, impacted the air quality in parts of Pennsylvania this week.
“Given the heat, humidity and the lack of change in the air mass, which has been sitting on the East Coast for several days, and you add other factors you would normally see, like heat, humidity, camp fires, chemicals released from motor vehicles, and other sources, it creates an extra layer of ozone, and the smoke from the fires just added to it,” said Martin. “(The smoke) did add to the air quality, but it was above ground at higher levels.”
Martin further explained if the smoke was at a lower level in the atmosphere, it could have been possible to smell smoke in the air.
“A few people reported to be able to smell smoke, but a lot of it was elevated, which was a good thing,” said Martin. “Otherwise, the air quality would have been a lot worse.”
One thing county residents may have noticed more vibrant colors, especially at sunrise and at sunset, as a result of the smoke.
“Smoke makes the sun appear more red at sunrise and at sunset,” said Martin. “It makes it look like a red ball when it comes up in the morning and goes down in the evening.”
However, the haze in the sky will not be a factor in the coming days, according to Martin, as a cold front is coming through, and temperatures today and Friday will be in the mid-70s to low 80s, with nighttime temperatures in the mid- to upper 50s.
“There will be less haze, less smoke, less humidity and drier air,” said Martin. “Actually, we haven’t seen this kind of weather in a while, as much of the last few weeks have been met with high temperatures, high humidity and a lot of rainfall. We’re getting a break from that for the next couple of days. It will be cooler than normal for a change.”
Temperatures will inch back up into the low to mid-80s Saturday, with lows in the mid- to upper 60s, which is more typical of July.
“The next chance for widespread showers will be seen around the second half of the weekend, probably Sunday,” said Martin.