North America chokes in smoke, looks like an ashtray from space

As of July 12th, North America resembles an ashtray from space, and it's not a good look.

2020 was rough. So were 2017 and 2018.

Remember last September? Each Victorian equivalently smoked about two packs of cigarettes a day when atrocious air quality blanketed British Columbia -- as 42 million kilograms of wildfire smoke hung over the city from California wildfires.

So far, it's not good. In fact, many locales are ahead of 2020, like California, that’s burned over 40,000 more hectares than 2020 by this time.


As of July 12th, North America resembles an ashtray from space, and it's not a good look. We can utilize a digital flipbook through this century and see how we compare on this date:


Poor air quality. Listen to your body, as wildfire smoke impacts everyone differently, but those at higher risk of experiencing health impacts need to reduce exposure.

Canada's air quality index can be used as a guide to know when to appropriate dial back physical activity, for example:

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The size of one particle of wildfire smoke is about 2.5 microns in size. Keep in mind the width of a strand of hair is roughly 70 microns; consequently, the smoke particle will easily penetrate directly into your lung tissue, causing inflammation and irritation.

You might have an N95 lying around these days, so if you're working outdoors, it's something to consider.


To highlight a positive might seem a little insensitive, but there's a couple I think of that might offer a little temperature relief or simply a beautiful distraction. Read ahead if you're a kind of glass-half-full individual.

Cooler temperatures. Smoke can effectively block shortwave solar energy from reaching the surface, turning an extreme heat wave into something a little more manageable. We saw this in September 2017, in British Columbia, where it was possible to reach all-time September temperatures until the smoke shrouded out the sun. Calgary, Alta., threatened to break all-time temperature records in August 2018, but smoke once again 'saved' the day.

An extra beautiful sunset? For real, we'll call this one a positive externality from wildfire smoke. Only a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum is visible to us humans; a process called Rayleigh scattering effectively scatters the light off of nitrogen and oxygen molecules that are readily available in our atmosphere.

But with a larger smoke particle, we're left with red, Mie scattering occurs, and these particles are effective conduits to absorb blue and green light.

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The result: A stunning, beautiful sunset, or under a dense, thick blanket of smoke. Your location might very well resemble Tatooine.