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Smoke from Canadian wildfires has ‘no end’ in sight as air quality suffers

Many areas outside Texas are expected to face their most significant heat of the season thus far, with some relief expected this weekend.

Millions of people across the country continue to face extreme weather as Canadian wildfires shroud the Midwest and the Northeast in smoke, while the South swelters under a dangerous heat wave.

The National Weather Service said there appeared to be "no end" in sight for the wildfire smoke that has been enveloping swaths of the United States. Meanwhile, it warned that the "dangerous heat" in the South would continue to expand east, bringing the "most significant heat of the season thus far" to some areas outside Texas.

The latest on extreme weather in the U.S.

  • A number of deaths due to heat-related illnesses have been tied to the heat wave in the South, with at least 9 fatalities recorded in Webb County, Texas, the medical examiner there said at a government hearing Monday.
  • Around 71 million people are under heat alerts, including residents in Fresno, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, New Orleans and Nashville.
  • More than 100 million people are being affected by poor air quality today.
  • Chicago had the worst air quality in the world early this morning, according to the online tracker IQAir.com.

At least 13 deaths attributed to heat wave sweeping Sun Belt

More than a dozen recent deaths in Texas and Louisiana are tied to the current heat wave, officials said, with almost a dozen more fatalities being investigated as possibly connected to scorching temperatures.

Eleven people have died in Webb County, Texas, from the heat, while two more fatalities in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, have been confirmed as heat- related, officials in those jurisdictions have told NBC News.

In Texas, officials are also investing deaths at Big Bend National Park, in Dallas and various prisons to determine if heat played a role.

Rockland County urges people to wear N95 masks

While New York City has been largely spared the recent heat and air quality threats, the suburb of Rockland County urged residents today to wear masks outdoors.

With Canadian wildfires still raging, county health officials said the air outside could adversely impact "young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with underlying respiratory conditions and heart disease." 

Free N95 masks are being distributed through town supervisors in the county northwest of New York City.

Satellite views of the smoke

Thick plumes of smoke can be seen blanketing huge swaths of the country in new satellite views released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A large amount of smoke from Canadian wildfires is continuing to drift over the U.S. on June 29, 2023.
A large amount of smoke from Canadian wildfires is continuing to drift over the U.S.NOAA

NOAA’s weather satellites captured the smoke from Canada’s wildfires as it drifted over the Midwest and into surrounding regions. The smoke has degraded air quality for more than 100 million people, prompting alerts from the Midwest and the Great Lakes region into the Northeast and south into the central Appalachians.

Maryland and D.C. issue ‘code red’ air quality alerts

Wildfire smoke continues to descend over parts of the Northeast, prompting both Maryland and Washington, D.C., to issue “code red” air quality alerts today.

Code red conditions indicate that air pollution levels are considered unhealthy for everyone, and vulnerable populations may be especially at risk.

The Maryland Health Department recommended that children, seniors and people with respiratory or heart conditions limit time spent outdoors.

About 71 million people under heat alerts

About 71 million people are under heat alerts, including residents in Fresno, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, New Orleans and Nashville.

Temperatures in the 100s are possible today across much of Texas, as well as parts of the South and the Midwest. Cities that could experience dangerous heat index values of 103-plus today include Kansas City, St. Louis, Little Rock, Memphis, New Orleans, Dallas and Houston.

The heat dome is expected to stick around the southern Plains today but is also starting to slowly shift east. The West and the Southwest are also seeing excessive heat today and tomorrow with the heat alerts issued for Northern California being the first of the year.

As we head into the weekend, eastern locations will cool slightly whereas western locations will get hotter.

26 million people at risk for severe storms

About 26 million people are at risk for severe storms today stretching from eastern Colorado and into the Midwest and the Ohio River Valley. Very large hail will be the greatest risk, followed by wind gusts in excess of 65 mph and isolated tornadoes.

This morning, three severe thunderstorm watches are already out across parts of the Midwest, ahead of what’s expected to be a dangerous day featuring what could be three rounds of severe thunderstorms.

The severe thunderstorms include portions of Nebraska, Kansas, northern Missouri and eastern Illinois. Cities at risk include Omaha, Des Moines, Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville and Nashville.

Wildfires expected to burn through the summer

The Canadian wildfires are expected to burn through the summer, with periodic smoke outbreaks like what we’ve seen happening this week likely to also continue throughout the season.

According to meteorologist Bill Karins, the number of acres burned across Canada is now up to a record-setting 20 million acres — the previous record was 17.5 million acres in 1995. For perspective, that’s an area roughly the size of Maine or three times the size of New Jersey. 

More than 100 million people impacted by poor air quality

More than 100 million people are being impacted by poor air quality today.

As Canadian wildfire smoke continues to move south and east today, almost every major metro area east of the Mississippi River has been under an air quality alert.

Cities under air quality alerts include Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Nashville, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and New York City.

This morning, the thickest smoke leading to the worst air quality conditions is draped across parts of southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, central Ohio and western Pennsylvania. Other areas waking up to smoky skies and unhealthy air quality include much of the Great Lakes region, the Ohio Valley and the interior Northeast.

Through today, the smoke is expected to disperse with time especially across the Midwest and the Ohio Valley after rounds of thunderstorms that will help take some of the smoke out of the air. By tomorrow morning, the highest concentrations of smoke will be over parts of the mid-Atlantic and the interior Northeast.

Risk of severe thunderstorms in the middle Mississippi and Ohio valleys

The weather service warned of an enhanced risk of severe thunderstorms over parts of the middle Mississippi and Ohio valleys today through tomorrow morning.

"The hazards associated with these thunderstorms are frequent lightning, severe thunderstorm wind gusts, hail, and a few tornadoes," it said.

It said there was also a threat of hail 2-inch or bigger for parts of the affected areas, as well as in the central-high Plains.

'Slight relief is on the way,' weather service in Forth Worth says

"It’ll be hot today, but not quite as hot as the last few days," with more relief on the way, the weather service in Forth Worth, Texas, said in a tweet.

A heat advisory was in effect for parts of the region for today.

Heat and Canadian wildfires could be tied to ‘wavy' jet stream

Scientists say a closely watched atmospheric pattern — the jet stream — is behind both the Canadian wildfires and the scorching heat in Texas, raising questions about how it shapes extreme weather events and whether climate change is disrupting its flow.   

The jet stream, a ribbon of air that encircles the Northern Hemisphere at high altitudes, drives pressure changes that determine weather across North America. The jet stream’s wavy pattern creates areas of high and low pressure. 

In recent months, the jet stream’s patterns trapped and stalled a ridge of high pressure over northern Canada, which caused a heat wave and primed the landscape for the wildfires that later sent smoke pouring into the Midwest and the eastern U.S. Earlier this month, another ridge of high pressure centered over Texas, sending temperatures soaring.

More than 100 million people in the U.S. faced either blistering heat or unhealthy air quality yesterday.

Read the full story here.

Deaths tied to heat wave in the South

A growing number of deaths have been connected to the heat wave in the South.

The dangerous heat in Webb County, Texas, has led to the deaths of at least nine people in eight days, the medical examiner said at a county government meeting Monday.

“We don’t see this in our county. Laredo knows heat, Webb County knows heat. And I think our county was caught a little off guard,” Dr. Corinne Stern said. “These are unprecedented temperatures here.”

The Associated Press, citing Stern, reported two additional deaths in Webb County, which is on the U.S.-Mexico border. NBC News was unable to immediately confirm that reporting.

Two heat-related deaths were also reported in Caddo Parish in Louisiana, "one in the city proper and the other a few days ago in an outlying town, Keithville," the Caddo Parish coroner's office said in a statement.

Extreme temperatures have already taken a toll, data shows

The blistering triple-digit temperatures across Texas this week have the state rivaling the hottest locations on the planet, including the Sahara desert and parts of the Persian Gulf.

Texas has for weeks been baking under a severe, early season heat wave that is now spreading into the lower Mississippi Valley and parts of the Southeast.

Over the past week, several cities in Texas, including San Angelo and Del Rio, have hit or surpassed 110 degrees Fahrenheit — temperatures that are more common at this time of year in parts of northern Africa and the Middle East.

The extreme temperatures have already taken a toll. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the rate of emergency department visits attributed to heat last week were about 30% higher compared to the same time last year.

Read the full story here.

Parts of Texas could see 'slight relief' this weekend

The dangerous heat that has plagued the South is expected to expand east through the lower Mississippi Valley and the mid-South and into the Southeast through tomorrow, the weather service said.

For many outside Texas, rising temperatures threaten to bring the "most significant heat of the season thus far."

Parts of Texas, the lower Mississippi Valley and the mid-South could see "slight relief," however, as temperatures "trend down to near normal values," the weather service said.

Haze from the Canadian wildfires blanketed the downtown Pittsburgh skyline yesterday.

Benjamin B. Braun / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP

Chicago has the worst air quality in the world

Chicago had the worst air quality in the world as of early today, according to IQAir.com.

Meanwhile, three other U.S. cities were among the top six cities with the worst air quality in the world, with Washington, D.C., coming in second, Detroit fourth, behind Dubai, and Minneapolis sixth.

Both Chicago and Washington were listed as having "unhealthy" air, while the air quality in Detroit and Minneapolis was considered unhealthy for sensitive groups.


Smoke smothers parts of U.S., while the South swelters under heat

Millions of people across the country are waking up once again to extreme weather as Canadian wildfires smother the American Midwest and Northeast in smoke, while the South contends with dangerous heat.

The weather service said there appeared to be “no end” in sight for the wildfire smoke that has been blanketing parts of the country.

The smoke was expected to reduce air quality over parts of the upper and middle Mississippi Valley, the Great Lakes region, western Ohio Valley, the central Appalachians, the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic today, prompting air quality warnings over affected areas, the weather service said.

Meanwhile, the "dangerous heat” in the South was expected to continue to expand east, bringing the “most significant heat of the season thus far” to some areas outside Texas.