The smog gets worse in Chicago

June 28, 2023 • 2:30 pm

Usually, when it’s very cold in Chicago, the weatherperson says that we’re inundated by “cool Canadian air”. Now our Canadian friends are sending us something worse: smog from the extensive wildfires up north. Yesterday Chicago had the worst air quality in the world. It’s just about as bad today. Here’s our index from the NYT:

Here are the air quality indices for several major cities this morning. The index runs from 0 to 500; the higher the number, the greater the level of air pollution. An A.Q.I. of 301 or more is considered hazardous. Find your city here.

We’re Number One!!

More from the NYT:

In Chicago, Air Force One descended through a thick layer of smoke and haze at the O’Hare International Airport late Wednesday morning, as President Biden arrived for a speech on the economy.

. . . . The smoke is the result of one of Canada’s worst wildfire seasons in decades — nearly 500 active wildfires were burning in Canada early Wednesday, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, and more than 250 were burning out of control.

It’s funny, but though the air is visibly hazy even a block away, I can’t smell anything. But here’s the view of downtown Chicago, six miles away, from my crib. I can nearly always see the skyscrapers quite clearly rising up in the distance between the two buildings in the middle ground. Today: bupkes.  The downtown is completely obscured.

I just hope the ducks are okay.

28 thoughts on “The smog gets worse in Chicago

    1. Thanks for the chart. And *cough* that is some nasty air you got up there. Wow, and Chicago next on the list. I assume people are wearing masks when outside.

      Closest city on the list to me is Seattle, sitting at 28. My asthma is grateful. Though I’m sure we’ll start having wild fires any day now; I read the conditions are ripe for it.

      1. Not as of this time you aren’t. Your air quality has now improved according to IQAir. Toronto is worse.

    2. That’s an interesting site – I’ve bookmarked it for future reference. But it only shows major cities, and there seems to be some wild spatial variability in AQI. Right now the site is showing a P2.5 value of 318 in Canton OH at one location, but only 105 a couple of miles away.

      As for the smell, we’ve had some over-200AQI days here near Denver. Some days I can really smell it, other times I don’t seem to notice it at all. But I’ve learned to recognize that peculiar reddish color of the air, particularly at sunrise and sunset.

      1. Try and turn on the PM2.5 layer. Then you can click a point of the map and it will give the numerical value as well as the whole map shows the air quality by colour. You can also click the play button to show the likely change in air quality over time.

    1. The origin is northern Ontario and Quebec. The low pressure system is bringing the air down. You can see how the air patterns move the smoke from the fire to the Great Lakes to the west and down into Southern Ontario and the northern US. It continues in this loop with the low pressure.

      1. I see a pattern – but I’m stuck on the intensities – I suppose the fires are not so intense, but widespread to create a large volume of smoke, plus a particular air flow to absolutely hammer not just Chicago, but cities all around it, at *high intensity* – like an air mail special…?

        High intensity fires like a few weeks ago appear just as expected on the map. Maybe the data source has changed..

          1. There were 2 teams of Kiwi firecrews dispatched to help out. They also do this for the Australian bush fires. I would imagine it would be a gruelling fight for months on end with a few stories to tell.

          2. Bless their hearts, sincerely. It’s gruelling, exhausting dangerous work in remote areas with no infrastructure. Totally unlike a structural fire in a city or town.

        1. This is a good explanatory article “while the number of fires is decreasing, the average size of any given fire has substantially increased.
          From 1982 to 1993, Canada’s median wildfire size was 112 hectares. From 2013 to 2022, it was 509 hectares. This year so far, it’s about 1,900 hectares.
          Angrier wildfires are expected in a warming world, especially in the northern latitudes, where warming is happening fastest. Larger fires are hotter and thus more intense, allowing for rapid increase in size, which sends more smoke higher into the atmosphere and farther downwind.”

      2. Ahhh, I can see a smoke trail pattern at a far zoom level – getting worse it seems. Way up… Baie-James… I can click it…

  1. The smell is unpredictable. Could not smell it yesterday morning, but could in the evening (particulate levels went up 10% during the day yesterday to around 220). This morning no smell, and now I’m getting occasional wood smoke whiffs from the AC in my office. I hope it’s not the building on fire!

  2. At my institution, the Office of Faculty Affairs helpfully provides workshops about how to cope with life challenges like unbreathable air. A relevant one is the following: “OFA Well-Being and Resilience Series 1: Resilience and Emotional Intelligence. Overview Objectives: Develop understanding of resilience as a context dependent process and how emotional intelligence allows us to strategically choose how we respond to the world around us. Explore the differences between individual and collective resilience as responses to social challenges and as methods of engagement in social action. …Take away: Gaining awareness of our emotional reactivity, learning how to increase the gap between stimulus and response, understanding the impact of our moods, learning to choose our responses.”
    I am passing up this particular workshop. Out here, we are fortunate that the air sent down to us from British Columbia is more breathable than what Ontario sends your way.

  3. A few days ago in Milwaukee I could smell turpenes, indicating that conifers were the source of the smoke. Now I can’t smell the details; it just smells like faint wood smoke. I expect we habituate rather quickly to all-pervasive odors like this.

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