By Alison Saldanha and George LeVines
Click on a ZIP code or enter an address in the search box to learn the average number of days per year that people breathed smoke from 2016 to 2020, a period when endemic wildfires, burning hotter, faster and more frequently due to climate change became the “new normal.” You’ll also be able to compare that data to smoke exposure from 2009 to 2013, a period when extremely destructive wildfires were far less common.
The map is the result of a collaboration between NPR’s California Newsroom and Stanford University’s Environmental Change and Human Outcomes Lab. The monthslong analysis, based on more than 10 years of data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reveals a startling increase in the number of days residents are breathing smoke across California and the Pacific Northwest, to Denver and Salt Lake City in the Rocky Mountains and rural Kentucky and West Virginia in Appalachia.
Read the story here.
Read more about our methodology here.
The map shows areas of smoke caused by burning vegetation. This smoke is nearly always associated with wildfires. However, in parts of Florida recording the worst smoke days in the U.S., that smoke is most likely caused by burning sugar cane fields.
Our analysis found many areas of the Midwest experienced a slight drop in the number of days with smoke overhead since 2009. Modeling of the satellite imagery by our partners at Stanford shows the smoke there is now thicker, suggesting wildfires are also worsening overall air quality in the Midwest, just as they are in the West.
NOAA’s Hazard Mapping System is unable to identify the vertical height of plumes and therefore cannot easily distinguish between plumes at surface level and plumes high above the ground. However, EPA scientists say the presence of smoke plumes from wildfires tracks closely with the presence of fine particulates linked to heart disease, respiratory problems and premature death.