A large swath of the eastern United States looked like “California at the height of fire season” Tuesday as a series of wildfires in Quebec sent plumes of smoke into the atmosphere. According to a new map circulating online, several major cities are now facing extraordinary air quality problems.

Exacerbated by climate change and record-breaking seasonal heat, Canada is currently experiencing one of the worst starts to its annual wildfire season on record. More than 6.7 million acres have already burned across the country, particularly in provinces like Quebec and Nova Scotia. In Quebec, approximately 150 are still active, forcing the evacuation of around 14,000 residents and sending massive amounts of smoke into the southern US.

On Tuesday, the Capital Weather Gang, a weather-watching Twitter account operated by the Washington Postshared an infographic map showing air quality levels across much of the eastern US, with levels worsening the closer a location was to the epicenter of the fires, and unusually low levels reported in several states, including New York, Michigan, Minnesota, and most of New England.

“Smoke, which makes the eastern US look like California at the height of fire season, is not normal,” the account stated. “The air is compromised from Minneapolis to DC and Boston, and the worst from western New York to [around] Ottawa.”

In a follow-up tweet, the account shared a look at the 12 worst cities in the world for air quality as of Tuesday afternoon. Due to smoke, Toronto ranked fifth, behind cities like Delhi, India and Jakarta, Indonesia, but still worse than Hanoi, Vietnam. New York City, which is not known for good air quality under normal conditions, ranked seventh, worse than Shanghai, China. Detroit completed the standings in twelfth place.

Wildfires in Canada Affect US Air Quality
A burned landscape caused by wildfires is shown near the entrance, Wild Hay area, Alberta, Canada, on May 10, 2023. Canada fought on May 8, 2023 to control wildfires that forced thousands to flee, they stopped oil production and leveled cities, with the western province of Alberta asking for federal help. Some 30,000 people have been ordered to leave their homes in the past three days as nearly 100 fires have broken out across the province, including 27 out of control.
Megan Albu/AFP/Getty

Outside of Canada, the worst effects of the smoke were felt in western and central New York, home to cities including Buffalo, Rochester, Binghamton and Syracuse. Looking further afield, alarming levels of air quality can be found in a wide variety of cities, including Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.

news week contacted Accuweather by email for comment.

Parts of the mid-Atlantic region, from Michigan to New Jersey, were also found on Tuesday to have ideal dry conditions for their own wildfires, raising the possibility of new U.S. wildfires that could worsen the situation from within.

“Weirdly, the smoke situation in the east caused by the fires in Canada could be made worse by new fires that may break out between Michigan and New Jersey,” the Capital Weather Gang added in a subsequent tweet. “Dry thunderstorms, unprecedented in the eastern US, could even break out.”

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