Smoke From Hundreds of Wildfires in Canada Streams South Across Much of the Central United States

By Tom Yulsman | June 29, 2015 2:53 pm

Smoke from hundreds of fires burning in Canada streamed far south into the U.S. on June 28, 2015, as seen in this image from NASA’s Aqua satellite. (Source: NASA Worldview)

|See update below |

Pushed by a wildly contorted jet stream, smoke from more than 200 wildfires burning in Canada’s Alberta and Saskatchewan provinces has streamed 1,600 miles south, deep into the United States.

You can see the fires and the plume in the image above, acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite yesterday.

I did my best to analyze the satellite image and locate the approximate end of the plume. By my estimate, it traveled as far south as southern Missouri, near the city of Springfield. From the fires in northern Alberta, that’s a distance of about 1,600 miles.

Here’s another view, captured yesterday by a GOES weather satellite:


GOES weather satellite image showing Canadian wildfires and a long smoke plume streaming into the United States. (Source: University of Wisconsin Space Science and Engineering Center)

The plume clearly reaches all the way to southern Missouri.

| Update 6/29/15: The smoke plume continues to stream south into the United States today, as seen by the GOES-13 weather satellite, as well as by NASA’s Terra satellite

This isn’t the first time in 2015 that jet stream winds have carried smoke from Canadian wildfires deep into the United States. Back on June 9, the sun over Washington D.C. glowed red through a veil of Canadian wildfire smoke.

The image below shows the forecast position of the jet stream for today:


The jet stream’s deep kink today. (Image: Annotation: Tom Yulsman)

In addition to sweeping smoke south, the jet stream’s contorted positioning has caused a ridge of high pressure to build over western North America. This has allowed warm air to penetrate far to the north and raise temperatures as much as 20 degrees F above normal.

Meanwhile, a trough of low pressure has allowed cool air to spill south across the Midwest. (Also note the ridge of high pressure that’s bringing heat to parts of Europe.)

study published earlier this month found new evidence that rapid warming of the Arctic due to human activities is causing the Northern Hemisphere jet stream to be wavier in a way that promotes extreme weather like the unusual heat now gripping much of western North America. (Not to mention the extreme cold that afflicted the U.S. Midwest and East Cost this past winter.) The research also finds that these contortions are occurring more frequently.

The authors conclude with this caution:

As emissions of greenhouse gases continue unabated . . . the continued amplification of Arctic warming should favour an increased occurrence of extreme events caused by prolonged weather conditions.

One important caveat: This is an ongoing area of research, and other scientists are not convinced that warming of the Arctic can be tied conclusively to wavier jet stream patterns. Perhaps additional research will provide a more definitive answer.

Meanwhile, there is no doubt about the impact of the unusual warmth and dry conditions that the jet stream’s current kinkiness has promoted: They’ve helped stoke the hundreds of wildfires burning in the forests of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

So far this year, in fact, more than 1,600 fires have scorched about 1,500 square miles of territory in the two provinces — an area three times larger than the sprawling city of Los Angeles.  (For statistics on wildfires in Alberta, go here; for Canada overall, including Saskatchewan, here.)


Thick smoke plumes stream from wildfires burning near oil sands mines mines in northern Alberta, as seen in this image acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite on Jun 28, 2015. (Source: NASA Worldview)

Numerous wildfires are currently blazing in Canada’s tar sands region in northern Alberta. In the image above, captured by NASA’s Aqua satellite yesterday, I’ve circled some of the open pit mines from which tar sands are extracted. Numerous thick smoke plumes are visible.

Canada’s tar sands operations are the largest source of U.S. oil imports. They have also sparked great controversy, thanks to environmental impacts.

Just to the south of the open pit mines visible in the satellite image above, the town of McMurray is reported to be blanketed in smoke today, and air quality is qualified as posing a very high risk.

  • Mike Richardson

    There’s a certain irony to seeing it have such an impact on that region of Alberta, where the tar sands are being mined. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones suffering, as those satellite images show.

  • gildyslast1

    From Columbia, Missouri – yep, the smoke from the fires gave us a beautiful sunset tonight! Pointed it out to my wife driving home, & discovered the cause from our weather lady a couple hours later.

  • Amanda Nicole Zdanis

    Really thick over here in Fairview Montana.. Just started rolling in.. Hopefully the rain expected later today will remedy the situation..

    • Don Bouchard

      At Lambert, MT, visibility to a quarter mile or less. I can barely make out moonlight above, but ground level is thick smoke. 1:30 AM (MST)

  • Dee Dee Brown

    Des Moines, Iowa has a haze over it that turned the sun and moon red. Need some rain to help calm it down a bit..

    • Patrick Mason

      We had the same up here in the northwest corner of Iowa!

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    • Ryan Schatz

      Same here in northeast part of Minnesota!

    • Joleene Naylor

      same here in south west Iowa. I thought it was odd that it started to get “dark” at 6pm…

    • Cole Cameron

      I can say the same for central Minnesota.

  • mac00

    Why is it red tinged

  • Janet Susan

    We have it all the way in St. Peters, MO today!

    • Michael Baxter

      We saw it in Cape Girardeau, MO. The sun this morning was a bright orange disk you could stare at and not hurt your eyes. It was very strange and neat.

  • IrishYank2

    And of course my crazy fundie neighbor said it was God’s sign of disapproval of the recent SCOTUS decisiino on gay marriage.

    • Coach Reilly

      That is no worse than my crazy environmental wacko neighbor screaming and crying like a lunatic that this was result of man-made global warming.

      • IrishYank2

        At least one of the opinions is based on science. Still silly to assume this as part of climate change, but at least sstill grounded in reality and evidence. I’ll trade you your neighbor for mine.

      • Kelli Luxem

        here in Rapid city, SD it is horrible. Visibility is low and really tough on us asthmatics

      • Karl Hungus

        Eh, your kind will be sniffing superiorly about how smart you are not to “fall” for science when the waves are lapping at your front porch, and the Koch-type sociopaths have bought up all the hillsides with their ill-gotten petro bucks.

        • Coach Reilly

          Eh, your kind will be sniffing superiorly about how smart you are for trusting junk science when you are being loaded into the boxcars for transport to government “re-education camps”, for the crime of having an extra boxfan in the window. Meanwhile, the Gore-type-sociopaths have bought up all the guns, food, and fuel with their ill-gotten carbon credits.

      • Ted

        I was really worried about global warming. My state, WA had the largest fire in state history last year. It burned down my hunting cabin. This year we currently have about a 100 fires burning. The Hoh rain forest has been declared a disaster area. The city wells of the town of forks, of twilight fame, are running dry. The state has had a hotter, dryer summer, than any in recorded history. As I say, I was getting worried. Then I realized I could fix this problem. So I joined the republican party, turned on Fox news and listen to the propaganda and the lies. Now I feel so much better.

    • I Am No One.

      Almost makes me wish I had a wacko neighbor to make fun of. Or maybe I’m the one they make fun of. Lol. Touchè!

      • IrishYank2

        God only knows what my fundie neighbor says about my family. Oh wait. God knows exactly what they say about me because they’re always talking to him. And judging. And constantly in fear of imaginary things.

    • Richard C Winsell

      bull, sask is burning tell him that .it’s realy dry here . what rain we get come to us is 1 drop per 60 feet,and if it rains at night it drys up by morning.

  • SpyderBite

    We had an epic blood moon in Saint Louis and today is very hazy and hard to breath for us asthmatics.

  • Kaylene Marie

    Omaha, Nebraska is covered in haze

  • thinkharderokay

    The light here in STL has been golden / very orange all day, even at midday, in addition to the sun being slightly diamond shaped. It’s been bugging me all day, but I’m glad I saw this and found out!

  • ComeAndGetMe


    • Cole Cameron

      Get a social life.

      • ComeAndGetMe

        no thanks… its better doing my own thing

  • freetomatoes

    They never miss an opportunity to include that this IS ( not may) be due to human caused global warming. The desperation never ceases to amaze me, especially when there are people suffering all over the world, and it’s all new. I know their suffering is due to man made global warming.

    • Tom Yulsman

      Mr. Freetomatoes: If you read the article you will see that I did not attribute the fires to human-caused global warming. I said recent research indicates that a rapidly warming Arctic could be making the jet stream wavier, which has contributed to weather extremes. But I also pointed out that this is a continuing area of research and not all scientists in this field are convinced of the connection. Basically, more research is needed.

      • freetomatoes

        The research has already been done.

        • DJ

          The so called research is by a dedicated group of anti-free economy left leaning pseudo science wacks.

          • Karl Hungus

            You, sir, need to go help fight the fires in Canada. While wearing a lot of synthetics.

          • Laura Connor

            How do you know about the political leanings and the views on the economy of 97% of the world’s climate scientist? Ad hominem attacks are usually made when someone has no facts with which to back up a position. If you want to persuade people you would have to examine the research on climate change and challenge that. I think you will find that the data is extensive and that, for example, it is more extensive and better researched than much of the research on which medical procedures and prescription drugs are based. Why is it that you accept scientific research in the medical field (I am making as assumption here) but reject it on the issue of climate change? Scientific research has brought us tremendous benefits. Its effect are all around us. You accept these benefits but it seems to me arbitrarily reject this one area. Why?

      • Ray

        I think what MrFreeTomatoes is saying is that scientific community, and the political and social spheres they influence have somehow imagined it good and wise to ascribe all fluctuating wheather phenomena to globo warmism.

        It is unscientific, and could perhaps in the future be viewed as irresponsible to have done so with an intent to inspire notions that conventional energy use will cause the rapid uncontrollable demise of life as we know it

        which is completely absurd. But when it is one job to study climate, if it is necessary to propagandize to get funding and readership and be hip that is understandable. Great article! Soo nice to see the dirty oil sands didn’t ignite.

  • Whaever

    All the smoke from Canada is not forest fires it’s actually massive piles of marijuana lite on fire during proper wind conditions so it floats on down threw “murica”. This has been done in hopes of calming down all you nut jobs.

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  • Brad Mann

    Canada you are stinking US out.

    • Richard C Winsell


  • drew

    its over here in Nashville,tn.

  • bennyfromdablock

    We had a red moon tonight in Atlanta, GA

  • DJ

    Here in central Minnesota…happy 4th everyone… sun visible…very heavy smoke cover….


    • Cole Cameron

      Well, I can argue against that considering the fact that I live in central Minnesota. The sun is bright in the sky, but the haze is definitely there. The summer air is no longer sweet, either. I’ve been staying inside to avoid the fine particles of dust, though.

      • DJ

        One day of heavy cover then cleared over night as the jet stream shifted a bit. Yesterday there were spots of haze and up in the Alex area it was a bit thicker and accompanied by the smell of burning animals.

  • Katherine

    Tonight, before the fire work display in Westmont IL, we watched the “quiet haze” in amazement, as the sun was setting. The moon is a funky color tonight!

  • Kayla Markus

    It’s very gloomy here and call me crazy, but I swear it makes me nauseous.. Southern Minnesota!

  • Fran Gardner

    Even smokey here texline tx

  • Caseas

    < ?????? +dilbert +*********…..


  • bwana

    Courtesy of Canada. No charge!

  • Marvin E. Hall

    Once again we have had these sodium and potassium hydroxide chemicals being dumped even into our rivers, streams, lakes and oceans since 1989. They are in our storm systems right now are virulent. That is why you see their atoms being excited by wind and even see the damage being done to our forests such as the pine beetle infestations. Look at the holes in some of our leaves. The bark is even peeling off our trees. These forest fires start because this form of liquid chemicals now coat our trees. grass even making the insects, creatures in the oceans more virulent and they attack humans now without any provocation from humans. You can imagine these atoms and molecules in our storm systems now being charged with millions of volts of lightning that excites these storms and changes them into virulent and lethal tornados, hurricanes and cyclones. We can reduce these storms by sending up sensors into the tornado and hurricanes to diffuse these systems and control them. Remember in Twister the movie about these storm chasers using electronic sensors to map these systems. Now use these electronice sensors to slow the speed of the tornado or hurricanes and make them more manageable. They should be able to use these sensors and make them to where they fly into these thunders storms and gather the energy from these intense lightning bolts that have millions of volts of energy that should be harnessed. I am sure that Benjamin Franklin when he invented the lightning rod thought of this idea as being modified to collect the energy from any one of these storms and using this never ending energy form instead of seeing it dissipate and not use one single volt from these storms. Since these sensors are round and they travel in unison hundreds maybe thousands of these depending on how big the hurricanes or tornados are they can slow the molecular structure of these storms and control even the damage so that we will not have so much collateral structural destruction and loss of lives.

  • donna

    increased haze, smoke (even from the west.north west in our states) and cloud cover increases cooling effects. Same as a volcanic eruption, or a nuclear winter, though not as extreme! And boy do we have a lot of smoke!! The EPA must be going crazy!!! LOL!!! Sorry…but the EPA can’t control lightning OR terrorists!!

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ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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