How did the Wiregrass get wildfire smoke from Canada?

Alabama Department of Public Health official details health impact of wildfire smoke
Alabama Department of Public Health official details health impact of wildfire smoke
Published: Jun. 13, 2023 at 2:35 PM CDT
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - Pictures and video poured in from New York City as the sky turned shades of orange, all this because of wildfire smoke from nearby Canada.

Fast forward two days later and Alabama is seeing minimal impacts from the smoke overhead. An air quality alert went into effect for Huntsville on Friday morning, moving into the Birmingham area by lunchtime. Of course, the concentration of smoke appeared to make life difficult in New York with smoke settling at lower levels of the atmosphere.

Most of the fires originated in Quebec before the impacts were soon felt in the northeast Tuesday.

Here’s one of the views of the polluted air hanging over New York City.

Smoke and thick haze blanket the Northeast
Smoke and thick haze blanket the Northeast(Shannon Ortiz)

Two days later and the Wiregrass began taking on a slightly orange look at sunset, and it was obvious that smoke was the culprit. This small concentration of smoke intruded all the way to the coast line of the Florida panhandle. How did that happen?

This next image is a good estimate of where the smoke was late Wednesday night into Thursday morning. Very thick smoke is evident from looking at this map, and the pictures gave good ground truth. At this point in time, virtually no smoke was hanging above the Wiregrass.

smoke forecast, Thursday morning
smoke forecast, Thursday morning(WTVY)

The situation evolved quickly as the smoke was soon found southward. The image below shows a small concentration of smoke above the Wiregrass close to noon on Friday, though health impacts with this amount are not to be expected. This is enough, however, to give a rating of a “moderate air quality” in most cases. Most days out of the year, the Wiregrass has a “good air quality.”

Smoke forecast, Friday
Smoke forecast, Friday(WTVY)

Here’s why we got skipped on the thicker smoke, as the plume traveled further to the east. This map shows where the strongest winds were in the upper-levels in the atmosphere, and was a good indication of the path the smoke would take. This direction and track of wind was going to keep pushing the thick smoke further to the east, given the affected area at the time was New York, it was likely to go through some of the northeast and offshore.

Upper-level winds, Thurs.
Upper-level winds, Thurs.(WTVY)

A slight jog to the south before turning east was just enough to push light concentrations of smoke into the Wiregrass, but it could have been much worse if this fast belt of wind was oriented to move further southward, hence a bigger dip toward the coast. To put it simply, the upper-level winds were not aimed at the Wiregrass, and we did not see any major impacts from the smoke.

Upper-level winds, Friday
Upper-level winds, Friday(WTVY)

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