Smoke visible on satellite image from the Midwest through the Mid-Atlantic on Tuesday (University of Wisconsin Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies)

On Tuesday, satellite imagery revealed smoke that originated from wildfires in Siberia sweeping across the U.S. from coast to coast – reaching the Mid-Atlantic. Today, NOAA reports Siberian smoke is in the air over half to two-thirds of the U.S.

As we commemorate Earth Day, the cross-ocean and cross-continent transport of smoke is a great example of the interconnectedness of our atmosphere.

NASA commented on the origins of the smoke on its Earth Observatory Web site:

The smoke likely came from wildfires burning in the steppe of southern Russia. Farmers there have an old tradition of burning dried grass in the spring to fertilize the soil for the coming year.

In April 2015, unusually warm temperatures and strong winds turned the tradition into a nightmare. Several fires escaped the control of their handlers and spread rapidly across the dry landscape. According to media reports, escaped fires devastated several villages, killed about two dozen people, and left thousands homeless.


Smoke viewed over Siberia via NASA’s Terra satellite on April 14, 2015 (NASA)

[An old-country Russian tradition has sparked wildfires across Siberia]

The smoke first reached the Pacific Northwest on Saturday.  “When the smoke arrived over the Pacific Northwest, it was still relatively high in the atmosphere and did not have a major effect on the air quality at the surface,” NASA said.

However, the U.S. Air Quality “Smog Blog” said air quality was compromised in parts of California and the Southwest on Monday as the smoke penetrated farther inland.


Smoke stream from Siberia arriving in the Pacific Northwest on Saturday. (NASA)

Skywatchers in the West observed brilliant red sunsets Monday evening.

On Tuesday, the smoke streaked eastward. “Two streams of very high altitude moderately dense smoke originating from Siberian fires are within a large area of thin smoke that covers the bulk of the continental United States and central/western Canada,” described NOAA’s smoke report.

NOAA reported smoke spanning from Canada’s Northwest Territories through the northern Rockies and then diving into the Midwest, Tennessee Valley, and Mid-Atlantic along the jet stream (see top image). A second smoke stream stretched from northern New Mexico to Washington.

Satellite imagery continues to show smoke from Canada’s Northwest Territories diving southeastward into the Midwest, where air quality is forecast to be degraded to moderate levels in some areas. A front nearing the East Coast is stopping the flow of smoke for the time being, but it may flow back into the Mid-Atlantic tonight and tomorrow once the front clears. Sunrises and sunsets may be enhanced a bit.