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What to know about air quality in NYC

Air quality alert: How it might impact your health
Air quality alert: How it might impact your health 03:28

NEW YORK -- As a result of higher temperatures and humidity levels, air quality suffers greatly in New York City during summer, most notably during heat waves.

The main culprit is the stagnant air, which usually goes along with high humidity, trapping pollutants from cars, factories and more. This creates high levels of ozone and fine particulates which react in the presence of sunlight, therefore leading to or worsening respiratory issues.

A graphic titled "Understanding AQI" breaking down the different levels of air quality: good (0-50), moderate (51-100), unhealthy for sensitive groups (101-150), unhealthy (151-200), very unhealthy (201-300) and hazardous (301-500).
CBS New York

Why are air quality alerts issued in NYC?

When an AQI value of 100 is exceeded, an air quality alert is usually issued. Poor air quality in New York is generally linked to the omnipresent levels of pollution connected to functions of urban life.

Sometimes, though, it has nothing to do with pollution. For example, prevailing wind patterns can occasionally transport smoke from wildfires that are thousands of miles away into our region.

This was the case in June of 2023 when northerly winds funneled smoke from wildfires in the Canadian province of Quebec directly into New York City. This led to an extremely hazardous AQI index of 484 on June 7. Not only was that the highest level ever recorded in the city, but it was the worst air quality in the entire world on that date. Not to mention the apocalyptic scenes created by the thick haze that anyone who witnessed it will never forget.

New York experiences worst air quality because of Canadian wildfires
View on June 7, 2023 of hazy New York city skylines during bad air quality because smoke of Canadian wildfires brought in by wind.  Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Will NYC experience another hazardous air quality day?

Thankfully, there has not been a repeat of that so far this year.

Aside from some wildfires in British Columbia in May, the fire season across Canada and the western United States, the typical source regions of smoke that reaches our region, has been relatively tame compared to last year at this time.

More precipitation has fallen across those regions throughout the winter and spring, creating a less favorable environment for fire development. This bodes well for the summer ahead and seeing the entire New York skyline ensconced in smoke again is not likely, even if conditions in those regions dry out later this year.

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