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NYC Mayor: Stay Indoors To Avoid Toxic Wildfire Smoke; 55M Americans Breathing Unhealthy Air Due To Canada Fires. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 07, 2023 - 15:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: The BREAKING NEWS, more than 55 million Americans under air quality alerts right now, thick smoke for more than 400 Canadian wildfires choking major U.S. cities and the people who live here. These are live pictures of the haze.

Now across many parts of the northeast at one point yesterday in New York City topped the list of the world's worst polluted cities. And today, New Yorkers can barely make out the city skyline. It looks almost like the surface of Mars there.

There's a code red air quality warning in effect for Philadelphia, where all residents are urged now to stay indoors. Even here in Washington, D.C., we are seeing the effects as well.

CNN Meteorologist Jennifer Gray, she's been helping us understand this.

Jennifer, looking at that map there, first of all, boy, look at that ranking to see the U.S. well above for a time, New York City well above some of the worst polluted cities in the world. Tell us about that ranking and tell us how long it's likely to stay like this.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN WEATHER CORRESPONDENT: Well, New York City right now is topping the world for the worst air quality of any major city in the entire globe. So New York City's at that number one spot right now.

Now, this changes about every five minutes. So in the next 10 or 15 minutes, that could drop to number three or four. But regardless, over the last two days or so New York City has fallen somewhere within this top 10 lists of the poorest air quality in the world. Toronto has been right up there as well with New York over the last couple of days as well.

So it just drives home how horrible the air quality is across the Northeast, New England, even into the mid-Atlantic. You can barely make out the skyscrapers there. I don't even know if you can see it on your television. I can barely see it from here, but the smoke is so thick. We've seen visibility less than a mile, New York City is less than a

mile right now because of the smoke. We've seen ground stops at airports because the visibility is so low. So this is basically going to hang around, Jim, for the time being. We need a huge shift in the weather pattern before we start to see this led up a little bit. So it's all driven by the wind.

Right now those winds are out of the north and it's pushing that smoke all into the Northeast, New England. You can see all of those little red and purple dots that indicates unhealthy and very unhealthy air quality. Some of these cities are even in the hazardous category, which is the worst.

So that's why people are urged to stay indoors, especially those who have respiratory illnesses, children, especially kids and adults who have asthma really need to stay out of this, especially because this is going to most likely stick around for quite a while unfortunately. As long as we have this high stuck here and the low right to our east, these winds are going to funnel right in between. And at least for the next seven to 10 days, I don't see any huge changes in the weather pattern.

Jim, remember how long we were stuck in that weather pattern, when we had the atmospheric rivers roll across California?


GRAY: You can be stuck in these stagnant weather patterns for weeks and even months. So we're going to be talking about this for quite some time as long as these winds are out of the north. And I'm not saying we're going to be in this weather pattern for months. But I'm just saying you can be stuck in these weather patterns for quite some time.

So as long as the winds are primarily out of the north, we're going to continue to see the smoke from the fires down here. We're still early in the fire season in Canada. So we still have a long way to go before these fires are extinguished across Canada and portions of the Northeast and even into the U.S.

But the wind will vary, right? So some days it's going to be worse for the Northeast, some days the winds are going to shift a little bit more and it'll be worse for the, say, the Ohio Valley. But when it clears out for somebody, it's going to be bad for somebody else. That's really going to be the big story over the next couple of days and even weeks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jennifer, you did a great job explaining last hour how it's two things here. It's the wind flow that's carrying the smoke down from Canada, but it's also that low pressure system that's kind of capping it there. So it just can't escape around that area, the New York City area and beyond.

GRAY: Yes. Yes, we sort of get in these patterns where - especially when you're in the, like, areas of high pressure where the air is sinking and it can't really escape. We talk about these heat bubbles, these high pressure domes and things like that when the air is just sort of sinking and can't really get out of that.

So this is going to be trapped down close to the atmosphere for quite some time. We're going to see very thick smoke across places like New York, across the I-95 Corridor, Upstate New York.


This is this evening around six o'clock and you can see what happens during the overnight hours with the smoke. Those red colors are the thicker smoke, the denser smoke is really going to continue, it gets worse for D.C. overnight.

Do take a little bit of a break. It will improve on Friday, but just as we're talking about, there we go, it's going to get worse proportions across people in West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and so as that smoke just sort of shifts back and forth, this will be the trend.

SCIUTTO: Yes. What a scene there, thanks so much. We're going to keep coming back to this. There's a lot to learn.

Jennifer Gray at the Weather Center.

I want to bring in Miguel Marquez, our reporter. He's in New York City in Times Square, I believe still.

There you are, Miguel. Tell us what the air feels like there. So folks who aren't experiencing this themselves can understand.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's like you're out in the wilderness and there's a campfire somewhere, but you can't quite figure out where it is. You can smell that sort of woodsy smell.

And that is amazing, because these fires are so big, they're so far away and there are so many fires, and there's so much smoke that is being felt and you can smell it from hundreds of miles away when I've been in Los Angeles or San Francisco or other places that get inundated by wild land fire smoke, usually you're 10, 20, 30 miles away.

But to see it in New York City, I mean, there's the world famous ball that drops on New Year's Eve. As you look downtown there, you can maybe see 10, maybe 15 blocks or so but then you can't see beyond that. It is just bizarre to see here.

If you look out east, that's where the sunrise is very, very dark down there and you still have better than orange sort of haze, as you look east in Manhattan. And then I'm going to have you swing all the way around here, Ron, look west, look into the sort of the sky there, that's - the sun is on that side. That should be very bright and you're not seeing it - any of it.

This is one thing you're seeing when you look at the people here in Times Square, the number of people not taking pictures of the billboards or themselves or other things, but taking pictures of the sky and just how bizarre it looks. People in masks as well. We talked to a few people who were in masks

are in from New Jersey for the day, young people who are concerned about their own health and breathing in the smoke. You can feel it in your throat, you can feel that sort of scratch in your throat from breathing the smoke in it. It's also affecting the airports here a couple of the airports are Yes, sir.

SCIUTTO: I have to ask because the guidance is to stay indoors, if you can. You see a lot of people not staying indoors and frankly vast majority not wearing masks. Have you ever talked to folks about why they're not listening to that guidance?

MARQUEZ: Well, I mean, look, this is New York. People are here from all over the world. They've come to New York for a vacation. It is not - it's not perfect conditions. I've certainly been - I'm sure you've been in worse conditions in terms of air quality in your life.

I think if you have underlying conditions: if you have asthma, if you have lung conditions of any sort, if you're elderly, if you're very young, those sort of things, you want to try to protect as much as possible. But it is even affecting the airports here with some of the airports reporting flight delays, because visibility is just so poor, so it is affecting people.

But most people - I mean, this is New York, and people are not going to stay in - this is time squared. This is sort of the beating heart of the city. And it hasn't really changed behavior here very much today. And I think people are just kind of looking at it as an oddity and they may have a sore throat, but it'll be worth it in the end, end.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. Well, good to have you out there helping to walk us through it, Miguel Marquez there. And certainly, Boris and Brianna, a lot of health questions here. Is that a good idea? What should folks be doing as this continues to linger over American cities? I know that's something you're going to dive into now.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Yes, no question. There are potential health effects. I mean, I could feel a little tickle in my throat from being here in Washington, D.C., hundreds of miles from where Miguel is, and you see a haze over the skyline and it could potentially get worse.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: It's unusual, because we're used to seeing this in places like California where you and I have both lived or Washington State where there are these fires. But this morning, I know when I left my house, you could smell what Miguel was talking about, that sort of camp fire smell, and it is serious, especially with kids, which I think we're going to talk a little bit about as well with CNN Medical Analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner. He's a cardiologist and a Professor of Medicine and Surgery at George Washington University.

So what is on your mind, Doctor, as you're seeing these skies as you're seeing this air quality because this is going to be pushing down beyond the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic? We're looking at West Virginia experiencing these smoky conditions. What do people need to be keeping in mind? JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, I think people need to

assess their own risk. And the immediate effect of living in these smoky - really unusually smoky conditions is that the smoke contains these fine particulates which become really an acute respiratory irritant.


And to people who are prone to respiratory problems like people who do have asthma or COPD or bronchitis or are recovering from a lung infection or who have congestive heart failure, the air and smoke can create acute respiratory problems. And those folks should stay indoors until the conditions improve.

For people without those chronic conditions, it's not great to be in that environment. But it's probably not super dangerous. Having said that, when you know, the air looks brown, maybe it's better to stay inside for most of the day.

SANCHEZ: Yes, that sounds like a pretty good idea. Doctor, obviously, the forecast is changing as we speak, but it looks like it is going to be a few days before this disappears. What concerns do you have about long-term exposure over several days and not just an afternoon and this kind of smoke?

REINER: I think, fortunately, the long-term effects for just a few days of this are probably pretty minor. As I said, the short-term effects are mostly - as the smoke as a respiratory irritant. But remember that when a wildfire burns, it burns not just organic material, grass and trees, but it burns structures and vehicles, and all of that toxic material goes into the air.

So there are different studies looking at places where people have been exposed for a very long period of time to the toxic smoke from wildfires. And that's when you start to see an uptick in cardiac disease in the weeks - in the months and years after that, as well as even a hint that may be things like lung cancer can be found in higher rates in people who are exposed for very long periods of time to this kind of toxic smoke.

But I think the risk, in this kind of particular episode in the United States is very low for that.

KEILAR: Let's talk about kids, Doctor, because here in the Washington, D.C. area, up in New York and so forth, there - they've been going out for recess. I suspect there are a lot of schools that are keeping them in today and will do so in the coming days.

What needs to be happening when it comes to children, and what are their particular risk factors, especially considering how much activity they do undertake when they're outside?

REINER: Well, asthma is a bad problem in kids. And I think parents who have children who do suffer from asthma should absolutely not have them play outside. And as a rule, if some of the kids in school will be at increased risk for recess outside, maybe it's best to keep all the kids inside until the air quality improves.

The other thing that people in other parts of the world that are subject to this kind of toxic air all the time do is they wear a mask. And if you've ever been to Beijing, during a hot summer when the sky looks like it does in New York now, but every day when you go out on the streets, people are wearing smoke masks.

And I don't think that's necessary now, but if I had a respiratory condition that increased my risk and I had to go out, I would absolutely wear a mask now.

SANCHEZ: Doctor, some of the concern also is that because this is going to linger for some time, you may start to feel symptoms and be impacted by this even while you are indoors. So folks that follow that advice and don't go outside they can start feeling that irritant, that nasty cough, et cetera, what's your advice to those folks? And how do you know what do you watch for if you're having a serious issue indoors?

REINER: Yes, I think what you want to watch for is the beginning of a scratchy throat, beginning of a cough, increase in shortness of breath. Those are some of the symptoms that you want to look for if you're having a problem from air quality.

Most people indoors now should not suffer those effects. But being outside for a period of time, that's when you're most likely to have the full irritant effect of this kind of toxic air.

KEILAR: All right. Dr. Reiner, thank you so much for walking us through this. I know this is information that's going to help a lot of people.

We have much more on our breaking news ahead, 55 million people under air quality alerts due to these wildfires in Canada that are sending hazy smoky conditions down into the Northeastern U.S. as well as the mid-Atlantic and heading further south and west here in the coming days. We're going to be right back.



KEILAR: So we are following breaking news out of the Northeast and this toxic smoke that is just blanketing the region. If you are in New York City, this is what you are dealing with. You can see it, it is so thick. It is now at the top of the world's worst air pollution list. There is also a code red in effect for Philadelphia.

The thick smoke caused by more than 400 wildfires burning in Canada and look at this, this New York City is picture over time. You can see how it has increased throughout the day, just getting worse and worse to the point where there is no visibility.

Let's bring in Jennifer Gray, our CNN Meteorologist to talk about this. It's no surprise perhaps when you're talking about 400 fires. That is

the magnitude they are producing so much smoke. Tell us where exactly this is coming from and if these are fires that are maybe being contained or no.

GRAY: Well, lot of them are still burning out of control. And Quebec is really the hot spot for the wildfires at the moment. I don't know if you remember a couple of weeks ago, we were talking about fires in Alberta. Those were really bad for a couple of weeks ago. Now Quebec is really the hotspot for these fires.


And so it's just - all of this smoke is just driving down to the south. We're stuck in the stagnant weather pattern that we've got winds out of the north, so the smoke from the fires are coming down into the U.S. impacting much of the Northeast and it is unprecedented.

Canada has seen well above the normal - the number of wildfires they normally see. This is to date and you can see more than 9 million acres burned. These are for the total year. So we've seen more - almost triple the amount of acres burned just up until this date compared to last year, the entire year. And we are still early in the fire season across Canada. So we are going to see some pretty staggering numbers in the next couple of weeks and months if these fires continue across Canada.

So it's resulting in that poor air quality all across the Northeast, the eastern seaboard, even back into the Midwest, portions of the Ohio Valley has seen smoke over the last couple of days and even weeks. And so you can see from the satellite imagery, this is all the smoke right there just coming in from the north from those fires.

And until we get a huge shift and weather pattern, nothing's going to change. So while we might see a little bit of improvement from day-to- day. I think in the next week or two, we're really going to see this smoke stick around, not necessarily to the magnitude that we're seeing today in New York City, but there's going to be some city in the Ohio Valley, the mid-Atlantic that's really going to look like that in the next couple of days, if that makes sense.

So we're seeing this unhealthy, very unhealthy, even hazardous air quality all across the I-95 Corridor for today, even portions across the Ohio Valley, Upstate New York. That's why people are urged to stay inside, especially people that are sensitive, have respiratory problems and things.

New York City topping the list right now for the worst air quality in the world. Now, this updates every couple of minutes. So you might see that drop to number five, drop in number three. But needless to say, we've seen it in the top 10 over the last two days somewhere on that list, as well as Toronto.

So a little bit of what I was talking about where some people might get at the worst one day and others the next. It all depends on that wind direction. So here's New York City in the red. You can see getting the worst of it through this evening, Brianna. And then, D.C. getting it as well, sort of amplifying as we go through tomorrow.

But then by Friday, you see New York sort of improves a little bit. But what happens is the worst of the smoke has now drifted to the west, because of the wind direction. So what it improves for one, it's going to get worse for another. And so that's what we're going to see over the next at least seven to 10 days. I don't see this weather pattern shifting any - so we're going to get that northerly wind over the next week, week and a half at least and then we'll know beyond that in the days to come if this is going to change at all, Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes, I mean, we're seeing where it's headed and that's going to be to the west of Washington, D.C., West Virginia almost entirely going to be blanketed in this and quite a considerable part of Virginia as well.

Jennifer Gray, thank you for taking us through that.

CNN's Athena Jones is joining us now from a rooftop in New York.

Athena, that is a scene unlike any that I have seen from New York City before.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna. It absolutely is and we have been covering this all day and it was much better a few hours ago along the Hudson River. We are now on the far-east side of Manhattan.

This is the East River behind me. You can see Roosevelt Island and that bridge there. On the other side of Roosevelt Island is the borough of Queens. You really can't see it at all. Even on the drive over here. You could still make out some of the skyscrapers, the taller buildings, the taller apartment buildings and office buildings on the coastal part of Queens, now you can barely see them.

And I want you to see over on this side of the building. Walking towards Midtown Manhattan, we're around 57th Street. This is the east side of 57th Street going on to the west side. This is a street known for having some people call it billionaires' row. We've got very, very tall skyscrapers where people live, hundreds of storey - a hundred storeys tall, even higher than that apartment buildings that you simply cannot see.

All of that wide open white space back there is something that would be occupied by skyscrapers, by buildings that you just can't see right now because the air quality is just so terrible. This is something that even as of last night, officials were warning that it was 10 times that the particulate matter in the air. It was way higher than what the World Health Organization says is okay and is safe and that's what this all comes down to.

This is why people are being encouraged to use masks, to double up on mask, high quality masks, to stay inside as much as possible, particularly if you're among the vulnerable, the elderly, the very young children, someone who's pregnant with cardiovascular issues or respiratory issues. This kind of pollution can really exacerbate that and so that is the main precaution. Also, schoolchildren are being kept inside, all outdoor classes

canceled not just here in New York, but elsewhere across the Northeast all the way down to Raleigh, North Carolina.


But this is the worst we have seen it, Brianna. You can't even see - let me look over here real quick, downtown - if you look past there, you see a few buildings a couple hundred yards away. Beyond that. There are many, many more buildings that you simply can't see. So you get a picture of what we're dealing with here in New York, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, it's unlike anything. And just the way that it changed so quickly over the course of the day with the smoke coming from these wildfires in Canada.

Athena, thank you for giving us that look there in New York City. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Well, Mike Pence has officially announced his campaign for the presidency and this time he is running against Trump, not with him. So what did he have to say about his former boss? Some strong words, that's next.