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New York City 's Statue of Liberty sits behind a cloud of haze from the western wildfires. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Smoke from the wildfires engulfing the U.S. West and Canada and carrying harmful air pollution has triggered air quality alerts in the Upper Midwest and East Coast cities including New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Driving the news: The coast to coast smoke, which is clearly visible from space, is due to the nearly 300 wildfires burning in British Columbia and the more than 80 large blazes in the U.S.

  • The towering pyrocumulus clouds coming off these fires is lofting smoke all the way into the stratosphere, and the jet stream is carrying the smoke eastward across the country.

Our thought bubble: Due to the presence of small particulate matter, wildfire smoke can be hazardous to human health, even many, many miles downwind. The fires are also a source of carbon dioxide emissions, thereby acting to worsen global warming.

By the numbers: Smoke from the fires blanketed New York City sending its air quality index to an 170 before dropping to a still-unhealthy 158 on Tuesday — second only to the AQI of 174 in Krasnoyarks, Russia.

  • Boston, Massachusetts, and Hartford, Connecticut, also recorded unhealthy AQI readings that were higher than 150 on Tuesday.

Context: The wildfires, many of which started when a severe heat wave erupted in June, have been linked by scientists to human-caused climate change.

In photos:
A haze over the Manhattan skyline on July 20. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Sunlight interacting with wildfire smoke, causing the sun to appear with a reddish-orange tint in New York City on July 20. Photo: Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
The Statue of Liberty barely visible in the distance in New York City on July 20. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Go deeper

In photos: Oil spill threatens Southern California shores

In an aerial view, a containment boom blocks oil-contaminated water on Oct. 4 in Huntington Beach, California.

Authorities are working to contain one of the largest oil spills in California's recent history that has devastated wildlife and contaminated several popular beaches.

The big picture: The spill was detected Saturday and was estimated to be about 13 square miles in size. Some 126,000 gallons of crude oil has spilled into the waters, per the Coast Guard. The full scope of the environmental impacts remain unknown.

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Credit: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine Thursday night, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.