Here’s why the sun looks red this week

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Viewer photo taken by Richard Switzer in Hamburg.

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – If the sun looks a little different to you this week, you aren’t going crazy.

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, News 4 Meteorologist Mike Cejka said.

The smoke has blown all the way across the continent due to air currents in the upper atmosphere, and even caused an air quality advisory for our area. The smoke essentially acts as 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,” Cejka said. “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. “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.”

But the wildfires are still burning, so it’s possible smoky skies could return if the air flow lines up. If you’d like to share any images with us that you’ve captured safely, you can send them in through our Report It! page.

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