OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- A historic outbreak of wildfires across Northern California left a massive layer of smoke draped over the San Francisco Bay Area, turning skies early Wednesday into an eerie dark orange haze and covering cars, yards and homes with layers of ash. Climate experts believe this is part of California's 'new normal.'
More than 2 million acres have burned so far in a series of wildfires with the Bear and Creek fires currently raging to the east of the San Francisco Bay Area. Smoke from the blazes had covered Wednesday morning with a layer of darkness.
The smoke in the upper atmosphere scattered wavelengths of blue light, allowing only the warmer colors to reach the Earth's surface. The effect was most pronounced in San Francisco, where bright red-colored photos of the city's iconic landmarks, Lombard Street, Embarcadero, Coit Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, and Bay Bridge, flooded social media, complete with explanations of "no filter".
"I don't know when this is gonna happen again. and it's very important we document it and capture it. So that we can prevent this from happening in the future," said photographer Sebastian Valle.
While it may look like the world is coming to an end, the orange and dark skies maybe a ominous sign of what maybe in our future.
Climate change experts at the University of California at Berkeley say fires and intense heat have always been a part of California's identity but what's alarming them the most is the rate at which these cases are occurring. They say they have seen this coming for a while.
"Unfortunately we can expect more of the same. That is absolutely clear because all the science is very consistent that these are the kinds of events that have been predicted for decades and all of the signs point to more of the same," said David Ackerly, UC's Dean of Rausser College.
For example, an extremely rare triple digit day in San Francisco a few days ago could become the city's the new average.
"Going forward, if you think the 100 degree day will occur 20 days a summer or 30. Or by the end of the century, some models predict the whole summer will look like this," said UC Professor Max Auffhammer.
Wednesday's blood-red sky comes after a record-breaking streak of Spare the Air alerts for the region, with Wednesday being a record 23rd consecutive day.
"The Labor Day weekend heat wave, combined with tailpipe exhaust and lingering wildfire smoke, is expected to cause unhealthy air quality in the region," said Jack Broadbent, executive officer of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
KPIX 5 photojournalist Brian Yuen posted this surreal dashcam video of his late morning drive into San Francisco on the Bay Bridge.
Late Wednesday morning, the Air District also extended its Spare the Air alert through at least Friday, extending the record of 25 straight days of such alerts. The previous record was 16 days in 2018, when the Camp Fire tore through Butte County.
District officials also urged residents to drive less and stay indoors to protect their health during smoggy and smoky days.
The PG&E webcams displayed just how widespread the plume stretched. Click To See The WebCam Page
Wednesday Fire Updates
- Bear Fire Update: 3 Dead, A Dozen Still Missing In Huge NorCal Wildfire
- Creek Fire: Wall Of Flames Roars Into China Peak; Fire Grows To More Than 163,000 Acres; At Least 365 Structures Destroyed
Meanwhile, National Weather Service said there was no immediate relief on the way.
"The bad news about Wednesday is that smoke and haze will linger around the Bay Area and the Central Coast due to the wildfires in California, as well as the Pacific Northwest," forecasters said. "Satellite imagery has displayed smoke being brought down the coastline."
"Suspended smoke will descend closer to the surface and could lead to darker skies and worsening air quality today," NWS forecasters posted on Twitter. "This is beyond the scope of our models so we rely on your reports!"
Ash was falling from skies from Danville to San Jose to San Francisco.
- Bay Area Air Quality Management District
- BAAQMD Current Air Quality
- EPA AirNow
- Purple Air – Tracks particulate matter, sensors may register higher numbers than the air actual air quality.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed took to social media to calm any anxiety.
"I know people are concerned by the orange sky we all woke up to this morning," she tweeted. "The cause is a combination of fog and smoke from wildfires up and down the West Coast."
At least one outdoor attraction, the Oakland Zoo, announced it was closing for the day due to the smoke. People with tickets should contact the zoo to re-book another day to visit within the next 30 days, the Zoo said on its Instagram account.
The San Francisco Giants' Twitter account posted startling images of Oracle Park with the surreal backdrop of orange skies.
The Oakland A's also shared photos of the Coliseum, making a reference to both 'Star Wars' and the now absent Raiders.
Social media was filled with local residents posting photos and comments about the smoke-filled skies.
Roqo took to Twitter -- "7:30 am in San Francisco. This is the light and the color of the sky. Honestly I am a bit panicked. I thought it's 3am."
Lisa Mycka Water also noted the darken skies -- "Good morning. Yesterday the sun was pink, today the entire sky."
Others also posted photos.
Meanwhile, on the highways, essential workers continued on about their day, driving in lunch hour darkness with headlights on. Construction workers in San Mateo brought in lights in the mid-afternooon to help with visibility while building a retaining wall at Highway 101 and E. Poplar Avenue.
Longtime Bay Area resident Nick Alafouzos said hammering nails outside his home in the late morning hours required the use of a headlamp, and caused him to ponder the rest of 2020.
"I was just having lunch with a buddy. The only thing we're waiting for is an earthquake to happen," said Alafouzos.
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