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No filter: New York’s yellow sky and smoky air

Trees against the sky on Long Island, New York on Wednesday. (Mariana Arboleda / YJI)
Queens, New York, on Wednesday afternoon. (Charvee Roy/YJI)

NEW YORK – Is it a barbecue? New York City and its surrounding areas are experiencing one of the world’s worst air qualities right now.

With smoke from Canada’s wildfires spreading across the north east, what is it like to experience the effect first hand? 

Since we both live in the greater New York City area, we teamed up to share our experiences.


Chyonika Roy, Queens, N.Y.: It’s not so great. I started smelling the smoke during my zoom class Wednesday morning. The windows still open, and the smell of a barbecue grill felt potent as the smoke found its way indoors. 

Windows closed, shades drawn in Queens, New York. (Chyonika Roy/YJI)

My father – reading the advisory warning from the city to close windows – promptly came in to shut the window during my online class.

Shortly after he closed them, the windows became tinted with orange. The rooms became barely visible, darkened by the smoke from the wildfire. 

Essentially the sun stopped streaming inside. 

My sister came home from school coughing, reporting to me that when she walked home the sky seemed orange. She tried not to breathe the air as much as possible, even with a mask on.  Although the windows were shut in my house, the smell of barbecue somehow became worse as time went on.

My sister and I turned on the fan in the bedroom to circulate air. 

I briefly went onto the front stoop of my home, mask on, to access what the smoke was doing. On one side of the block, the pollution appeared visible like rain clouds, and on the other side there was full-on smog as the sky appeared to be completely yellow.

Although I was only outside briefly, those two minutes felt like I’d smoked a cigarette. My throat felt scratchy and my lungs tightened. 

Chyonika Roy stood on on her porch to take these two images of homes on her city block in Queens. Standing in the same spot, she took one in each direction, on the same day and at the same time. The only difference she noted was the presence of trees in one direction.

Long Island

Mariana Arboleda, Long Island, N.Y: As I walked out of my classroom, I immediately saw the effects of the heavy wildfires that have been affecting Canada in the past couple of months.

Instead of the usual socializing outside of my school, everyone was gathering inside the school’s front lobby, stepping as far away from the doors and windows as possible.

As I exited the building, I realized how bad the air quality was. 

All around, there were people rushing to get inside their school buses, some with masks and others covering their mouths and noses while trying their best not to breathe the heavy air.

It was impossible to even take a full breath without immediately coughing and smelling the terrible smoke.

As I got inside my school bus, I noticed more and more signs of how bad the air quality was getting.

The sky was completely cloudy with yellow and orange hues, and the environment had an eerie feeling with barely any sound of birds or signs of animal life.

As I saw the streets of my town, I kept seeing more and more people wearing masks. The ones who weren’t seemed highly uncomfortable with breathing in the raw, contaminated air.

Friends were texting their families and loved ones out of concern, checking up on their well-being and health. After-school activities were immediately canceled, and streets kept getting more and more empty. 

Events like these are what people all around the northern era of the East Coast are experiencing right now.

By mid-afternoon Wednesday in Long Island, New York, the air quality was around 152. Later into the evening it went up to 186.

According to The New York Times, the air quality index – a measurement of the safety of the air for breathing – shot past 400 on Wednesday, the worst since the Environmental Protection Agency began keeping track in 1999. 

The effects of these wildfires are reminders of why climate change is an essential issue, no matter where you live.

Failure to address climate change means that people living today will have yellow skies, tightening lungs, and a worse quality of life.

Chyonika Roy and Mariana Arboleda are Junior Reporters with Youth Journalism International. They collaborated on this article and provided some of the photos. Charvee Roy, a Junior Photographer with Youth Journalism International, contributed a photo.

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