Air Quality

NYC air quality levels close schools, zoos, Broadway shows; Brace for big airport delays

Worsening air quality has led to the cancellation of a bunch of outdoor activities, as well as closed schools, zoos, aquariums, sporting events and even some Broadway shows. And expect air travel headaches as well

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Some schools are closed. Broadway, sports and other events have been canceled. Air travel is heavily impacted. City- and state-run groups are handing out facemasks.

It may sound like a COVID flashback, but all are happening across the New York City area once again as a result of the dangerous air quality from the wildfire smoke.

A day after the city's Air Quality Index (AQI) stayed in the "hazardous" level for hours throughout the afternoon and evening, Thursday morning started out in the "very unhealthy" territory, with an AQI level of 222 as of 8 a.m., according to U.S. government online platform AirNow, an air quality data site used by the Environmental Protection Agency and more.

It was not known if the AQI levels would be as bad, or even worse, on Thursday. But fortunately, they seemed to improve throughout the afternoon, with air quality levels at 173 as of 3 p.m. — which brought the city back down to "unhealthy" levels rather than "hazardous" or "very unhealthy."

There were also early fears that air travel could be ground to a halt by the smoke levels. But despite temporary ground delays early in the morning, delays for NYC-area airports never reached disastrous levels. During the afternoon, Newark and LaGuardia had delays of less than an hour; JFK Airport had no delays.

Are you flying today? Check here to see what flights have been delayed at NYC area airports.

As a result of the elevated levels, several schools in the NYC area were closed at least through Thursday. While NYC elementary and middle school students have scheduled days off for the rest of the week (high school students will have remote learning on Friday), officials in Yonkers, Elizabeth, Newark and more kept students out of classrooms for the day.

For the NYC kids who aren't in school today, don't expect to entertain them at any city zoos or aquariums, as all will remain closed for the day as well. The Yankees, after postponing Wednesday's game against the Chicago White Sox, have a doubleheader at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

If you have pet, here's how to keep your critters safe amid the dangerous air quality levels.

Broadway appeared likely to return. Wednesday's matinee performance of "Prima Facie" was canceled 10 minutes into the production when star Jodie Comer "had difficulty breathing due to poor air quality in New York City." Her understudy was expected to take over. Evening performances of "Camelot" and "Hamilton" were also postponed, with producers citing air concerns.

It was not to be at Central Park’s outdoor stage, either. Shakespeare in the Park canceled its Thursday and Friday performances of “Hamlet,” saying ’tis not nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of wretched air.

Libraries across the city closed operations early on Wednesday, and the city announced alternate side parking rules would be suspended on Thursday.

All air quality alerts from previous days remain in effect. Residents throughout the region, stretching from the Hudson Valley to Long Island, are encouraged to take precautions and stay indoors if possible, especially if they have health problems. City officials have said they expect the advisory to remain in place for the next few days but added it's particularly difficult to forecast smoke conditions.

The city's Air Quality Index reached "hazardous" levels Wednesday afternoon, and by 6 p.m. had reached 333, according to AirNow. At that level, the site states "everyone should stay indoors and reduce activity levels."

New York City Health Commissioner Aswin Vasan said there was "the worst air quality in New York City since the 1960s" already this week, and that promised to continue Thursday. Many have noticed having difficulty breathing as a result of the smoke and incredibly hazy conditions, which is why officials have encouraged limiting strenuous activity for some.

Vasan extended guidance recommending new Yorkers avoid outdoor events and activity through Friday night.

It's hard to imagine conditions being worse than they were on Wednesday, with the smell of smoke and fire permeating throughout the city — which was illuminated in a somewhat apocalyptic glow. The sepia-tinted look didn't return to the city on Thursday. though there was a noticeable haze that limited visibility.

The fine particles in the air are among the most harmful, according to the city's site. To give an idea of just how bad the air is out there, NYC on average sits at 35 micrograms of fine particles per cubic meter of air every day. That number skyrocketed to nearly 900 Wednesday afternoon, which spells trouble not only for those with breathing issues, but also anyone who is otherwise healthy.

New York City ranked top of the list of the world's major cities with the poorest air quality on Tuesday and Wednesday according to IQAir. Time will tell if it makes it three days in a row.

Hochul announced Wednesday that the state would be handing out 1 million N95 masks at MTA stations, the Port Authority, and other state sites. The FDNY will be handing out masks throughout the five boroughs as well.

Air quality is expected to remain poor Friday as winds continue pushing smoke from out-of-control wildfires into the United States. A low-pressure front off the coast of Maine is keeping winds sweeping down from eastern Canada right into NYC, and that front isn't expected to move in the next few days — meaning smoke will continue to fill the air of the tri-state.

There could be some improvements in air quality later Thursday night, and conditions will be noticeably better into Saturday — but the smoke still won't be gone entirely.

Check the latest weather alerts for your neighborhood here.

There could be a spotty shower today, more scattered coverage expected Friday. The weekend weather looks ideal, with temperatures in the upper 70s and low 80s, and an expected wind shift will be what really helps ease the air quality and smoke issues in our area while at the same time warming us up into Sunday.

Early Monday continues to look like the better chance for meaningful rainfall. It also stays unsettled, with showers and storms, into early next week.

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