Air quality improves in US, but alerts remain due to Canadian wildfires: What we know

Some Americans could breathe a little easier as smoke conditions improved Friday, but air quality alerts remained in place as smoke from Canadian wildfires continued to bring hazy skies to regions from the Great Lakes to the Mid-Atlantic United States, the National Weather Service said.

Millions of Americans will again be threatened by the polluted air Friday. Reduced air quality will "continue plaguing" a swath of the country spanning Michigan, Ohio, the northeast and the Mid-Atlantic on Friday, the weather service said.

The skies will remain hazy and orange Friday, with poor visibility, meteorologists warned.

"Pockets of denser smoke could significantly reduce air quality and lead to lowering visibility, with a wider region of light to moderate smoke leading to an opaque sky and orange sunsets/sunrises," the weather service said Friday morning.

To protect themselves, people should avoid strenuous activity and outdoor exercise and wear a mask to filer out harmful particles, the weather service said.

Meteorologists said Friday the system of low pressure causing the smoke to blow into the northeastern U.S. should "relax" and shift its direction more to the west on Saturday.

Parts of the northeastern United States that were blanketed in a thick haze with air quality levels at a "hazardous" level on Thursday saw some relief as residents woke up on Friday.

Regions stretching from the New York metro area to Washington, D.C., saw yellow and orange on air quality maps, indicating air that was "moderate" to "unhealthy for sensitive groups" on Friday, according to readings recorded by

It was a welcome change from the more dangerous red, purple and maroon designations seen the last couple of days, but officials still warned children, seniors and anyone else at higher risk to should continue to avoid outdoor activity and wear masks.

"Air quality conditions in New York are gradually improving, but are not yet back to normal – especially in New York City, Western New York and on Long Island," New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said.

New York City's air quality was some of the worst in the world for stretches earlier this week. Residents reported feeling the thickness of the smoke in the air and seeing orange skies with obscured views of landmarks in the city.

Schools go remote amid poor air warnings

All New York City public school students and staff moved to remote learning and work Friday, the city said.

Classes for the School District of Philadelphia and some districts in New Jersey also went remote Friday.

In Philadelphia, district officials said they decided to switch to remote learning out of an abundance of caution "for the health of students" and announced all air quality-related absences Friday would be excused.

Experts warn this week's air pollution is only the beginning

The smoke drifting into the eastern U.S. is coming from wildfires raging in Canada's immense forests, which cover more than a third of the country.

Fire experts are sounding the alarm that the problem of pollution from wildfire smoke will continue in years to come, and may only get worse because Canada's forest fires are growing.

“If you think it’s crazy now, just wait. This will seem pale compared to what’s coming,” said Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, Canada.

The weather pattern that's bringing the Canadian smoke into the eastern U.S. isn't really that unusual or out of the ordinary, meteorologists say.

A large upper-level area of low pressure that's centered off the coast of Maine and Nova Scotia is causing winds to blow from the north and northwest, transporting the smoke into the region, meteorologist Zack Taylor of the National Weather Service told USA TODAY Thursday. The low has been persistent and over the past several days, he said.

"This can happen at any time of year," he said, adding that these upper-level lows tend to be slow to break down and can get remain until another system comes along.

Air quality near you: See what states are impacted by poor air quality

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