Worse Than China? Smoke Causes Air Quality to Becomes Hazardous in Northern California


With massive fires burning over 860 square miles in Northern California, a cloud of smoke has blanketed the region, causing serious health risks for people who go outside.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) compiles information on air quality around the world and assigns each area a number, with numbers representing air quality from “Good” to “Hazardous.” Right now, portions of Northern California are listed as “Unhealthy” to “Very Unhealthy.”

As of Wednesday morning, the area with the worst air quality in NorCal is Anderson, with an AQI of 185. Others places noted on the map include Red Bluff (161 AQI), Tahoe City (157 AQI) and Ukiah (151 AQI).

Now, if these numbers don’t mean much to you, let’s compare them to the infamous air quality of big cities in China. Beijing comes in at 153, Guangzhou is 119 and Shanghai sits at 68 AQI.

So, if you’re keeping score at home, Northern California currently has worse air quality than China. Consider that before going outside.

The wildfires are emitting vast amounts of smoke full of a toxic mixture of gases and fine particles that come from burning wood and plant material. When inhaled, the microscopic particles can quickly move to the lungs and bloodstream, increasing the risk of developing asthma and other respiratory problems.

Dr. Daniel Swain, climate scientist at UCLA, noted that many people in NorCal are currently seeing what appears to be overcast skies, although there are currently no clouds in the area.

“There are currently no clouds at all over NorCal. The opaque skies from San Francisco to Sacramento to Redding to Lake Tahoe are the exclusive product of dense smoke from numerous large wildfires,” Swain said on Twitter.

Other NorCal cities experiencing bad smoke are Chico (149 API), Auburn (142 API) and Grass Valley (137 API). Meanwhile, Southern Oregon is getting the brunt of the smoky weather, with some areas recording nearly 500 API.

“That’s about as bad as it will ever get in Beijing on a very polluted day,” Ryan Stauffer, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told the Washington Post. “You really don’t want to be outside in those conditions.”

Amid extremely smoky conditions, areas of Yosemite National Park remain closed and there is no current timeline for reopening. The Environmental Protection Agency’s “Air Now” website on Friday recorded the Air Quality Index in Yosemite at a staggering 386, or “hazardous.”

With no end in sight for the massive fires, the air quality in NorCal isn’t expected to improve anytime soon. Please take precautions before heading outside.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California

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