Here’s why the sun looks red this week

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An American kestral takes in the setting sun, made red from Northwest wildfire smoke, from a power line just outside Walla Walla, Wash., Monday evening, Sept. 4, 2017. (Greg Lehman/Walla Walla Union-Bulletin via AP)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – If the sun looks a little different to you this week, you’re not alone.

The sun has appeared with a red hue across much of the northern United States this week due to smoke from wildfires on the West Coast and in Canada.

The smoke has blown all the way across the continent due to air currents in the upper atmosphere and has even caused an air quality advisory for some areas.

The smoke essentially acts like an Instagram filter for the sky – sunlight naturally interacts with very small particles in the atmosphere and scatters colors in the visible spectrum. With more scattering taking place than usual, red (the color with the longest wavelength) appears more prominently.

This phenomenon has resulted in reports of the sun looking dull with a red, pink or orange tint from Michigan to Toronto to West Virginia. It is most visible at sunrise and sunset.

“What happens is, the smoke from these wildfires rises high up in the atmosphere and it gets pushed around by the wind flow up there,” said WIVB Meteorologist Mike Cejka. “This isn’t at ground level, this is up around 20,000, 30,000 feet in the atmosphere. Basically, the smoke layer is pushed around by whatever wind direction is found over the Great Lakes at the time.”

You can see the flow of the smoke in the above graphic from the National Weather Service.

“In fact, it’s actually made its way all the way down to the East Coast,” Cejka said Tuesday. “New York City had a really red sunrise this morning.”

The colored skies may not last long in Western New York. Rains coming through the area could push the smoke out of the atmosphere, Cejka said.

“If anything rises high enough into the atmosphere, the steering currents are just going to take it wherever they’re flowing to,” Cejka said. “That wind flow upstairs in the atmosphere has been from northwest to southeast. That’s why that smoke was projected in our direction. … The sky will start to look deeper blue over the next few days.”

However, the wildfires are still burning, so it’s possible smoky skies could return if the airflow lines up.

The 476-square-mile (1,210-square-kilometer) Bootleg Fire is burning 300 miles (483 kilometers) southeast of Portland, Oregon, in and around the Fremont-Winema National Forest, a vast expanse of old-growth forest, lakes and wildlife refuges. the Bootleg Fire — fueled by extreme weather — keeps growing by miles each day.

In Northern California, authorities expanded evacuations on the Tamarack Fire in Alpine County in the Sierra Nevada to include the mountain town of Mesa Vista. That fire, which exploded over the weekend was 61 square miles (158 square kilometers) with no containment.

On the western side of the Sierra, the Dixie Fire has scorched 63 square miles (163 square kilometers), threatening tiny communities in the Feather River Valley region.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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