The Smoky City

June 27, 2023 • 2:31 pm

When I walked to work this morning, I noticed that several other early risers on the street were wearing masks. I had no idea why. Was Covid back?

It turns out that our Canadian friends have finally gifted our city with the effluvium of their wildfires: a ton of smoke in the air. In fact, the news reports that Chicago right now has the worst air in the world.

Canadian wildfire smoke pouring into Chicago has made its air quality the worst in the world Tuesday.

The World Air Quality Index ranked Chicago as the worst for air quality, with Minneapolis, Dubai, Detroit and Delhi rounding out the top five. Chicago’s air is labeled an “unhealthy” 200 by the index.

The National Weather Service blamed the conditions and low visibility on the wildfire smoke that has wafted down from Canada and impacted large regions of the United States. The service suggested limiting prolonged outdoor activities.

The funny thing is that although it’s a bit hazy out, I don’t smell smoke at all. My sniffer may be insensitive, but it hasn’t been in the past.  The Washington Post says this:

Visibility in the city was down to two miles, with smoke reported in the observation from Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The Weather Service expects visibilities of 1 to 3 miles across the region for much of the day.

“You can literally smell the smoke in the air today in Chicago from the Canadian wildfires,” wrote a Twitter user.

It’s warm and partly sunny out, and normally I’d be able to see the skyscrapers of downtown from my crib. They’re six miles away. But now this is what I see: bupkes.

I guess I should stay inside, though I walked home for 25 minutes at a rapid pace and didn’t feel wheezy or anything.

26 thoughts on “The Smoky City

  1. Use the app on your phone or device. I find the AQI numbers vary greatly among providers, so I chose to trust the EPA with airnow.

    We had the same problem Sunday/Monday. If not breaking the rules, my photos are here:

    You seem to be out of the worst of it. And living high up, you have a/c. I don’t. It was hell closing all windows and living like that for 24 hours. How do people do it when they live in fire areas?

  2. You can monitor this with Apple’s Weather app, clicking the map, and selecting “Air Quality”. It is remarkable, the detail and coverage.

    NASA has a service for this as well. I have a link from earlier this season :

    … it’s all I could find in a pinch, but seems smoke analysis info is there.

    … I just checked the Weather app, all I see is Chicago is red. No signs of smoke from fires, or maybe they’re relatively small… meaning, there were large fires a month ago and they showed up prominently on the map…

    1. Yes, I am there now and walked for a couple of hours in it. My nose is stuffed up now. I could definitely smell the smoke in the air. In fact, yesterday evening I could smell the turpenes that are characteristic of burning conifers. So the smoke probably came from far northern forests (though today the smoke smelled more like regular dicot trees).

  3. I flew into Chicago last night from Albuberque. The pilot said it would be smoky in Chicago, but I couldn’t tell if the murkiness was due to the smoke or dusk coming on; I don’t recall the smell, but I wasn’t “looking” for it. This morning, in Racine and Kenosha, about 60 miles north of Chicago in Wisconsin, though, the burning smell is obvious, as is the decrease in visibility.

    And to add to what GBJames wrote about Milwaukee, I’m about 30 miles south of there.


  4. I live in the west suburbs of Chicago. I smelled it as soon as I stepped outside for my walk today. Trees half a mile in the distance grayed out behind haze as a landscape miles away usually appears.

  5. Arson is a terrible thing in a country mostly covered up to tree line with softwood forests and few roads for firefighters to get to the fires.

    1. I did a quick google and I couldn’t find anything about the Canadian fires being started by arson; maybe as a Canadian, you have better information. The quick search I did cited lightning strikes and human carelessness. Of course, climate change has exacerbated the size and intensity of any fires that start.

      1. I do. But climate change if you like, “of course”. One insoluble problem is as good an explanation as any other.

        1. I don’t understand what “insoluble problem” has to do with a good explanation. Just because it’s “insoluble” (your claim) doesn’t diminish the explanation, or make it “as good…as any other.” It’s just an explanation that is true, no more, no less. What other explanations are there? Chinese data manipulation?

  6. It’s extremely smoky down here in Iowa City, Iowa, although I don’t smell anything. The National Weather Service has issued an air quality alert.

  7. I use the free app and website called Windy and turn on the PM 2.5 layer to see air quality. Those particles actually get into the brain due to how small they are. If it’s really bad, I wear an N95 outside.

  8. And I should add. Welcome to the end times. Kind of like living through the burning forests of the Cretaceous.

  9. Can anyone state the location of the fires?

    The clearest sign on my map is Saul St. Marie and Sudbury…

    That is, it is worse – purple – on cities in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois … but no signs of smoke trails.

    1. I look in various maps. Mostly I use Windy. There are lots of fires but the big ones are in northern Quebec.

      1. Ok I see two huge red spots in Quebec. With air direction.

        Not sure I see how it brings smoke to Chi-town.


  10. It was hazy flying into O’Hare last Weds, and the pilot noted the fires. But it seems much worse today. Like you I could not smell it this morning, but it’s visible as a grey brown overcast. Been indoors all day so I’ll give it a sniff later when I leave. Currently an “unhealthy” 188 here in Evanston, and “Very Unhealthy 221 in Glenview! By contrast it’s a “low” 2 in London.

    1. Well smells of smoke outside now. And the visibility resembles my first visit to LA decades ago

  11. Even when it’s extremely smokey, it doesn’t always smell like smoke. I’ve experienced Canadian (and Californian, and eastern Washingtonian) wildfires often here in the Pacific Northwest. It sometimes smells like smoke; sometimes doesn’t. I don’t know what the relevant variables are that determine whether it smells or not.

  12. South of Chicago, haze, and burning sensation in eyes. Eyewash won’t help, but artificial tears seems to help.

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