May wildfires bring haze to Northern Michigan
The skies in areas of Northern and Mid-Michigan have been filled with a haze, and that’s a visual result of forest fires in western Canada and some areas of the western United States.
We can see the smoke this far from the source because of the size of the fires and the air flow in the atmosphere!
The dominant air flow (or jet stream) changes often but sometimes can stay in one pattern for an extended amount of time. Over the past several days, the dominant air flow in Northern Michigan has been from the northwest, bringing smoke from western Canada with it.
In the satellite image below from the Doppler 9&10 Weather Team, you can follow the air flow pattern by the movement of the clouds and smoke. The main flow is marked by the purple arrows.
Anyone downstream of the air flow carrying smoke can experience hazy skies, although some areas will see more than others because of where the strongest flow is located. Other states in the Midwest also are dealing with low air quality because the smoke is less dispersed and is reaching closer to the surface.
Here in Michigan, air quality is not expected to be impacted a lot at ground level because the smoke layer is staying high enough in the atmosphere, according to the EGLE Air Quality Division. During events like this, there are times that the haze can lower closer to the surface, and you can smell smoke!
The smoke will linger in the sky until the upper air flow pattern shifts.
Another round of haze
The beginning of June started out with more hazy skies. As of June 5, smoke causing haze continues to reach the surface levels of the atmosphere here in Michigan.
Much like May, the direction of the wind is helping to bring smoke from wildfires in Canada, and even one in Northern Michigan.
On June 3, there was a wildfire near Grayling, that sent a plume of smoke into the local atmosphere. Because the winds were from the Northeast, anyone southwest of the Wilderness Trail Fire was able to see smoke and a hazy sky.
While the fire near Grayling is 100% contained, winds continue to be out of the northeast bringing in Canadian wildfire smoke.
That same day, there was additional haze in the sky because of wildfires in Quebec, Canada. Locations like Sault Ste. Marie have been in an air quality alert because of the amount of ash and other smoke particles near the surface level.
As long as fires continue to spark in Canada, and the dominant winds flow from the direction of the fires, we will continue to face hazy conditions and potential threats to air quality.
As winds shifts and the atmosphere changes, different areas can see fluctuations in the amounts of fine particles in the air from the fires. At higher amounts, it becomes unhealthy.
Why does the sun look red?
When the sunrise and sunset is hazy and red, it is a result of what wavelength from the spectrum of light is able to pass through to your eyes.
The smoke adds a bunch of particles to the atmosphere, causing light to scatter more as it passes through.
On a clear day, the shorter wavelengths that pass through give us blue skies and the bright sun. But when there are more particles in the air, more of the light is getting scattered. The increased scattering only lets us see the longer wavelengths like red and orange.
Fun Fact: Scientists can tell the difference between different features based on how they appear on satellite.