Canadian wildfire smoke blankets Florida in unprecedented season

October 4, 2023
wildfire smoke

Florida impacted by Canada’s historic wildfire season

More than 69,000 square miles of Canadian land have burned in this year’s wildfire season.

With this impact, Florida joins a growing list of U.S. states grappling with the fallout from an especially intense fire season in Canada.

Wildfire smoke: Florida residents notice a change in air quality

“I have lived in Florida for about 20 years and this is the first time I remember seeing such a thick blanket of smoke,” Will Ulrich, a warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Melbourne, Florida, commented.

“For the past 24 hours, we’ve experienced milky white, very hazy conditions across the peninsula.”

The air quality in some parts of the state reached “unhealthy” levels. Residents noticed decreased visibility and a mild scent in the air.

Origins and impact of the traveling smoke

The smoke came from wildfires in British Columbia and Alberta. Circulating winds carried the smoke to Eastern Canada.

From there, remnants of Ophelia dragged the smoke southward to Florida as the storm lost strength in the Atlantic Ocean.

The ability of smoke to travel from British Columbia to Florida underscores the interconnectedness of our planet and the far-reaching impacts of environmental conditions.

The rise of wildfire smoke

This year has set a record for the most wildfire smoke exposure per person in the U.S. In the coming years, this might worsen as wildfires could become more frequent and intense.

Factors contributing include climate change and an accumulation of fuel due to long-standing aggressive fire suppression policies across North American forests.

Sadly, wildfire smoke is negating years of air quality improvements in numerous U.S. states. Currently, wildfires have burned about 69,000 square miles in Canada, far surpassing previous records.

Statistics from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre indicate that of the 795 wildfires currently active, nearly half are “out of control.”

Wildfires, climate change, and their interconnection

Recent research shows that shifts in seasonal precipitation and an increased likelihood of drought, both influenced by climate change, have intensified wildfires in North America.

Earlier in the year, studies revealed that climate change doubled the probability of the fire season in Quebec.

Florida’s history with wildfire smoke

While Florida is no stranger to wildfires and localized smoke events, this incident stands out.

“We probably need to go back to 1998 to find an event that impacted the entire state. Those were the significant wildfires in June and July that affected parts of the central peninsula,” Ulrich recalled.

“For the entire state to be enveloped by smoke like this is quite rare.”

The current smoke event is expected to persist until at least Wednesday morning before being pushed into the Gulf of Mexico.

FSJA Comment

The extensive reach of the Canadian wildfire smoke to Florida not only underscores the immediate consequences of wildfires but also serves as a reminder of the broader environmental impacts we are beginning to witness.

The interconnectedness of our ecosystem means that events in one part of the world can significantly affect regions thousands of miles away.

As wildfires intensify, due in part to climate change, understanding these far-reaching impacts is vital for preparedness, policy-making, and public awareness.

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