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Wildfire smoke blankets region, could move west

Smoke hangs in the air over Wilkes-Barre.
Smoke hangs in the air over Wilkes-Barre.

Winds from a low pressure system in New England delivered thick smoke from Canada’s raging wildfires to Pennsylvania, making temperatures cooler and breathing harder.

“Basically we’ve had north to northwest winds that are taking the air from where these fires are and bringing it right down into, you know, Pennsylvania, New York and a lot of the Northeast,” said David Nicosia, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Binghamton, New York.

The blanket of smoke started to build on Tuesday in Northeast Pennsylvania, and Nicosia said Wednesday got even worse.

“This is the worst smoke that I have seen, and I grew up in Northeast PA and near Binghamton,” he said. “This is very, very unusual in the sense of how thick the smoke is.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued a code red for air quality on Wednesday and advised all state residents to limit their time outside, especially older adults, children and people with respiratory issues like asthma.

By 2 p.m., Airnow.gov listed Northeast Pennsylvania’s air quality as hazardous. The Lackawanna County Department of Health and Human Services issued a warning advising residents to limit outdoor activities and stay inside as much as possible, mirroring recommendations from DEP.

As air quality worsened throughout the area, governments and schools had to adapt. Scranton City Hall closed early and the Wyoming Valley West School District postponed its graduation ceremony, meant to take place Wednesday night on the football field.

 The football field at Wyoming Valley West High School set up for graduation on Wednesday, June 7. The graduation ceremony was postponed due to air
The football field at Wyoming Valley West High School set up for graduation on Wednesday, June 7. The graduation ceremony was postponed to Thursday, June 8.

Nicosia said the smoke blotting out the sun caused lower temperatures and changed weather forecasts - rain showers the service originally predicted didn’t develop because the air could not get warm enough.

“The sun is not having the same effect because it’s being filtered,” he said. “We did not warm up enough to get clouds to get much precipitation at all, so we actually are drier than we were anticipating.”

If the winds shift as predicted, Nicosia said the smoke should start moving west by Wednesday night, but the trajectory of the wildfires could change that.

“And predicting how a fire is going to spread in a remote forest hundreds of miles away is virtually impossible,” he said.

Sarah Scinto is the local host of All Things Considered on WVIA. She is a Connecticut native and graduate of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, and has previously covered Northeastern Pennsylvania for The Scranton Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice and Greater Pittston Progress.