Energy & Environment

Hazy Vermont skies a result of West Coast fires; now, the haze is moving out

Cloudy sky over river
Wildfire smoke contributes to a hazy sky over the Winooski River in Montpelier on Wednesday. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

A week of on-and-off hazy skies in Vermont, caused by massive wildfires in California and Oregon, is coming to an end as a cold front pushes the smoke farther south.

Meteorologists say the haze showed up in Vermont in very small amounts about a week ago, and intensified in the past several days.

Rebecca Duell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Burlington, said that, by Thursday afternoon, the haze should have left Vermont and northern New York entirely.

“The majority of the U.S., honestly, has seen it,” Duell said. “It highly depends on the weather patterns that bend and swirl it around and change where it’s been, but it will probably be in southern New England for a while still.”

Duell said by the time the smoke reached Vermont, after a 3,000-mile cross-country journey, it’s really not possible to say whether it came from fires in Oregon or fires in California. In all likelihood, it’s probably a mix of the two, she said.

Typically, when Vermont skies turn hazy, it’s because of fires in eastern Canada, Duell said, such as Ontario and Quebec. Hazy skies from West Coast fires is far from the norm in Vermont, Duell said.

“It’s definitely a sign of lots of smoke in the atmosphere further west,” she said. “To see it from this far away means that a lot of acreage burned and produced a lot of smoke. It’s a sign of just how strong and vast the spread is of the fires out west.”

Vermonters’ social media feeds filled with images of yellow skies and dramatic sunsets Wednesday afternoon.

The West Coast fires killed at least 35 people across California, Oregon and Washington state in the last week, forced hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes and burned more than 5 million acres. Smoke from the fires made the air in some West Coast cities nearly unbreathable. The air in Portland, Oregon, was for a time the most polluted on Earth.

However, the smoke passing over Vermont should not be of any concern to Vermonters, Duell said. She said the vast majority of the smoke is thousands of feet in the air, and any smoke below that is in negligible amounts, so air quality in the Green Mountain State is the same as ever.

“The only impact we’re really seeing of hazy skies is maybe redder sunsets that tend to happen when we get smoke in the sky,” she said.

But this likely won’t be the last hazy sky Vermont sees, Duell said, as climate change causes temperatures to rise, drying out vegetation, and fires on the West Coast are getting worse every year.

“What’s going on out west is definitely related to the warming global temperatures and less rain to put out the fires,” she said. “That’s not changing.”

But right now, Vermont need not be concerned about the weather front, fires or otherwise. 

“It’s a really quiet period of weather going on here,” she said. “We’ve got sun during the days, and chillier nights — it’s definitely going to feel like fall here in the next week or so.”

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Ellie French

About Ellie

Ellie French is a general assignment reporter and news assistant for VTDigger. She is a recent graduate of Boston University, where she interned for the Boston Business Journal and served as the editor-in-chief of The Daily Free Press, BU’s student newspaper. She is originally from Duluth, Minnesota.

Email: [email protected]

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