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What the Smoke Has in Store for the Midwest

Wildfire smoke is giving Chicago, Detroit, and Milwaukee the worst air quality in the world. Here’s what it’s expected to do next.

Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

New York Senator Chuck Schumer coined “summer of smoke” while it was still technically spring, but if the scene in Chicago on Tuesday was any indication, the name is on track to stick.

As the fires in Canada rage on — there are actually more burning now than there were in early June — smoke has continued to pour south into the United States, this time blanketing Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, and parts of Indiana and Illinois. Chicago, Detroit, and Milwaukee ranked as the three worst major cities in the world for air quality mid-afternoon on Tuesday, while Grand Rapids, Michigan, recorded Code Purple “very unhealthy” air.

Unfortunately, New Yorkers won’t want to put away their air purifiers just yet, either (and if you’re in the Ohio River Valley, you’ll want to beat the rush to the store by picking one up today). Here’s a look at how the smoke is tracking this week:

The Great Lakes region

This isn’t the first time the Great Lakes region has had to contend with smoke this year, although the considerably worse conditions in New York City monopolized coverage last time around. But with the worst air quality in the world on Tuesday — including a rare, severe 353 AQI on the Michigan border overnight — some 24 million people were under air quality alerts at the start of the week, Fox Weather reports.

Thankfully, they don’t call it the Windy City for nothing; a breeze off Lake Michigan is expected to push the smoke southwest beginning on Wednesday, USA Today reports. Still, the smoke will linger overnight and stick around longer in other parts of the region — an air quality alert will remain in place in southern Minnesota through early Thursday morning.

The Ohio River Valley

Smoke has to go somewhere, though, and it’ll blow straight out of the Midwest … and into the Ohio River Valley. Air quality alerts have been issued for Indiana and the Louisville metro area (where it is forecast to be “unhealthy for all groups”), lasting through Wednesday, the Louisville Courier Journal reports. Haze has settled over Cincinnati, too, with alerts issued for sensitive groups. According to the FireSmoke Canada model, poor air quality could linger through at least Thursday morning.

New York

New York Governor Kathy Hochul issued a warning for her state saying smoke is expected to blow in on Wednesday, with New York City Mayor Eric Adams confirming it could come as far south as the five boroughs. “Bring a KN95 or N95 mask with you tomorrow,” he tweeted on Tuesday, “or make plans to avoid outdoor events just in case.”

For those in the Adirondacks, Hudson River Valley, Long Island, and New York City metro area, air quality isn’t expected to degrade beyond a “moderate” AQI of 51-100. Central New York, however, could experience air that is unhealthy for sensitive groups, while western New York will be in the “unhealthy” zone:

Everywhere else

The movement of smoke is famously tricky to predict, but there are a few different models you can use to keep an eye on your area. Here are the models for the next day from the FireSmoke Canada website, which tracks PM2.5 smoke particles at ground level from wildfires across North America. Check the FireSmoke Canada website or NOAA models for the most up-to-date forecasts and keep in mind that, like forecasting the weather, these are not guarantees. Err on the side of caution and protect yourself.

The model for the evening of June 27. Darker colors indicate higher PM2.5 levels, the particles associated with wildfire smoke. The numbered circles refer to the number of regional wildfires.FireSmoke Canada

The model for the morning of June 28.FireSmoke Canada

The model for the evening of June 28.FireSmoke Canada

Jeva Lange profile image

Jeva Lange

Jeva is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Her writing has also appeared in The Week, where she formerly served as executive editor and culture critic, as well as in The New York Daily News, Vice, and Gothamist, among others. Jeva lives in New York City.

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