Island air quality impacted by Canadian wildfires

Smoke from a wildfire in Nova Scotia is leading to air-quality issues on the Cape and Vineyard. — Courtesy Phil Burte

Smoke from wildfires that prompted mass evacuations throughout Nova Scotia, Canada, this weekend has made its way to New England, where Islanders have been notified of possible air-quality issues.

On Monday, towns notified residents through texting systems and on social media that smoke seen or smelled in the air likely originated from Nova Scotia. 

A number of fires covering thousands of acres in Canada remain uncontrolled, and the Northeast in the U.S. is experiencing direct impacts of smoke remnants. 

National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Belk told The Times there are a number of factors that contribute to the amount of smoke noticeable on the Vineyard, including wildfire severity and current wind patterns — specifically, how much concentration of smoke there is to begin with, and how much space it has to spread out. 

High atmospheric pressure compresses the air downward, preventing dissipation, Belk explained. That pressure “traps all the smoke close to the ground, so it doesn’t have a lot of space to dilute, even with time,” Belk said. 

But this weather event isn’t particularly anomalous. Belk said earlier in the year, smoke from a wildfire in Alberta also made its way to southern New England. Smoke from the Nova Scotia fires is more apparent on the Vineyard because of the particular weather conditions and air pressure. 

Belk expects air quality to improve within the next day or two, when the smoke is expected to be pushed away from southern New England with a change of wind direction.