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Chicago has the worst air quality in the world due to Canadian wildfire smoke

Following weeks of wildfires in Canada causing hazy skies and hazardous air quality on the East Coast, the people of Chicago woke up on Tuesday to the most severe air quality in the world.

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The sky in Chicago was filled with thick smoke, resulting in limited visibility due to a gray haze, and residents could detect a faint burning smell in the air during their morning commute. Unhealthy levels of smoke-related pollutants spread across the Great Lakes Region surrounding Chicago, affecting most of Wisconsin, as well as parts of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, as reported by AirNow.gov.

Meanwhile, New Yorkers can expect a return of smoky air. Governor Kathy Hochul issued a warning that air quality is anticipated to reach unhealthy levels in parts of western and central New York, as well as eastern Lake Ontario, on Wednesday and Thursday.

Consequently, individuals in sensitive groups, including young children, older adults, and those with heart and lung diseases, are advised to stay indoors and avoid physical activities. Others should limit their time spent outdoors.

Here’s what you need to know about the air quality:

Where is the Chicago air quality poor on Tuesday?

Major cities in the Midwest experienced either unhealthy air or air deemed unhealthy for sensitive groups on Tuesday morning, including Chicago, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Detroit, and Minneapolis.

According to IQAir, three U.S. cities ranked among the top 10 cities with the worst air quality in the world on Tuesday morning: Chicago, Minneapolis, and Detroit. The other cities in the top 10 were Dubai, Jakarta (Indonesia), and Delhi (India).

Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources issued an advisory for a significant portion of the state, expected to last until Thursday afternoon, with the most severe air quality conditions projected for Tuesday and Wednesday. Hazy skies with a smoke odor were observed in Milwaukee starting from Monday. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy declared Tuesday a statewide day of action due to the unhealthy and hazardous air quality.

On Sunday and Monday, a smoky haze settled over parts of northwestern Vermont, which was carried away on Monday afternoon by southerly winds.

Why is the air quality in Chicago so poor?

The unhealthy air quality in Chicago is primarily a result of the high concentration of particulate matter from the Canadian wildfires. Over the past few weeks, the smoke from these wildfires has drifted into the United States at various points. Meteorologist Zachary Yack from the National Weather Service in Chicago explained that wind patterns are predominantly responsible for the direction in which the smoky air travels.

How can you ensure your safety?

Experts recommend avoiding strenuous activities outdoors when air quality levels are unsafe and staying indoors as much as possible. Using air purifiers can help improve indoor air quality, and if venturing outside is necessary, wearing an N95 mask is advised.

Governor Hochul announced that masks would be provided for free to New Yorkers ahead of the anticipated unhealthy air conditions later in the week. Earlier this month, the state made 1 million free N95 masks available in response to the hazardous air quality.

When will the air quality in Chicago improve?

The smoky air and haze are expected to persist in the region throughout Tuesday and the overnight period. However, it should gradually move south and west throughout the day, resulting in a diminishing coverage on Wednesday, according to Yack. The wind blowing off Lake Michigan will aid in pushing the smoke in a southwest direction later in the day.

Yack noted that some areas may still experience slight concentrations of white smoke and a hint of the smoke smell, possibly lingering until tomorrow morning. Nevertheless, the overall trend should be a thinning of the smoke as time progresses.

What is the current state of the wildfires in Canada?

As of Monday, there were 492 active wildfires burning across Canada, as reported by Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. Of those, 259 are considered out of control.

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