A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Wildfires thousands of miles away are causing our hazy, orange skies — and threatening air quality

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

The hazy sky conditions in Kentucky that have also led to sunrises and sunsets to be reddish-orange in color, are due to wildfires that have been taking place hundreds and thousands of miles away.

Smoke from fires thousands of miles away have led to hazy conditions causing orange skies in Kentucky. (National Weather Service photo)

If you haven’t seen one yourself in person, you can find plenty of photos of the phenomenon on social media sites.

According to Brian Neudorff, a forecaster with the National Weather Service office in Louisville, the haze is due to smoke from those fires that are in many locations in the western United States, as well as in Canada.

“This smoke has worked its way across the northern United States, and Canada,” he said, “and now is in the Great Lakes, the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Ohio Valley.”

For those who are wondering how smoke, which ranges in color from black to gray to white, makes the sun turn red and orange, Neudorff explains.

“The sun emits white light, which is all the wavelengths associated with all the colors that make up the rainbow,” he said. “As the sun gets closer to the horizon during sunrise and sunset, that light has a much further distance to travel, and through a lot more atmosphere, which currently is made up of smoke.” 

Neudorff continued, “That smoke scatters the shorter wavelengths associated with the colors violet, blue, green, and some of the yellow. Colors with longer wavelengths, like red and orange, can easily pass through. That is what gives us that reddish-orange color.”

As well as causing the unusual sunrises and sunsets, the particulate matter that is in smoke can cause problems with air quality.

In fact, there have been air quality alerts in effect for parts of Kentucky over the past several days, although primarily people in more sensitive groups have been affected.

Bringing the wildfires under control, along with some rainy and breezy conditions, are what will be needed to scour out the smoke and allow all of us to breathe a little easier. 

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