Canadian wildfire smoke returns to Suffolk

Published 7:28 pm Friday, June 30, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By James W. Robinson 

and Stephen Faleski

Smoke from Canadian wildfires burning more than 500 miles away again reached Suffolk and the Western Tidewater region.

Email newsletter signup

The National Weather Service, at 10:39 a.m. on June 29, issued a hazardous weather outlook for southeast Virginia, warning of “unhealthy” air quality under a code red alert.

In an update Friday, NWS said air quality was unhealthy for sensitive groups. As the smoke continues to affect the area, the weather service alert said: “Individuals with respiratory and/or heart ailments, older adults and children should reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion.” 

In the NWS overview of the U.S. Friday morning, officials said a combination of thunderstorm activity and dispersion of the smoke is expected to slowly improve air quality.

The U.S. Air Quality Index map, which measures ground-level ozone and particulates in the atmosphere on a zero-to-500 scale, showed Suffolk and the region in the “red” zone Thursday. Friday had improved somewhat in the morning placing the city in the “yellow” zone.

Areas with an AQI of 50 or below are considered “good” and color-coded green, and those in the 50 to 100 range are shown in yellow as “moderate.” Those with an AQI of 100 to 150 are color-coded orange and are deemed “unhealthy for sensitive groups” such as people with respiratory or heart conditions. An AQI of 150 to 200 is color-coded red and deemed unhealthy for everyone.

Sentara Obici Hospital Clinical Respiratory Specialist Felisa Aycud advises those concerned about the air quality issues to not treat it as just an infrequent issue.

“With the way things are going, it looks like it’s something that’s going to be happening and on-going,” Aycud said. “They probably should be looking at their air quality index. I don’t think that’s something that most people do on a daily basis.” 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website advises everyone in red zones to limit their time outdoors and choose less strenuous activities. Aycud likewise emphasized staying inside and changing air conditioning air filters for those suffering from asthmatic and lung disease issues.

“I do recommend that you change your filters and make sure they are changed frequently and especially people with sensitivity, then those people should have a higher filtering with the air filters in their home,” she said.

For sensitive individuals who do need to go outside, Aycud recommends wearing a mask or scarf as an option during the poor air quality. She also advises those having breathing difficulties without an official diagnosis to go see a doctor to check themselves. 

“Better safe than sorry,” Aycud said.

According to NWS meteorologist Jon McGee, wind patterns should be “less favorable” by Friday for bringing smoke down from Canada, but the region will still likely be in the yellow or orange zone.

June 29 marks the second day this month that local air quality has crossed into the red zone due to smoke from Canadian wildfires.