NYC air quality: Forecast, outlook for Thursday and beyond

New York City's air quality concerns entered a third day on Thursday.

While the thick smoke that blanketed the Big Apple on Wednesday didn't return, officials say that doesn't mean the air is back to healthy levels. 

"That large plume we saw yesterday has been pushed through the city and we're expecting gradual improvement through the early afternoon today, but a seabreeze this afternoon could push smoke back over the city," Adams said. 

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A view of the hazy city during bad air quality as smoke of Canadian wildfires brought in by wind. (Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, the air quality index in New York City hit historic highs.

"The AQI, air quality index, hit 484. It tops out at 500," Zachary Iscol, the commissioner of New York City’s Office of Emergency Management explained.

While the index number was much lower Thursday, it still wasn't healthy.

"Things are progressing in the right direction. Today we're looking in the mid to high hundreds to low 200 across the city," Iscol said.

In response, the city is distributing N-95 masks at various state facilities, police stations and firehouses across the city. 

An air quality warning will remain in effect through Friday.

Racing at Belmont Park was canceled Thursday due to poor air quality, but officials still expect to run the Belmont Stakes on Saturday as normal.

Broadway shows have been postponed by the smoke, while the Bronx Zoo shut its gates for the second day in a row. Even libraries announced early closures.

"This is an unpredictable series of events," Mayor ERic Adams noted at a press conference.

For that reason, city and state officials have stressed: wear a mask, stay inside and just take it easy.

"You don’t need to go out and take a walk. You don’t need to push the baby in the stroller. This is not a safe time to do that," Gov. Kathy Hochul added.

Where are N95 masks being distributed?

  • Grand Central Terminal
  • Penn Station
  • Fulton Center
  • Jamaica Center
  • Port Authority Bus Terminal: South wing of main concourse
  • Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park in Harlem
  • Roberto Clemente State Park in the Bronx
  • Javits Center

How does wildfire smoke affect your health?

Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of gases, particles, and water vapor that contains multiple pollutants that can get into the lungs and bloodstream. 

There is no evidence of a safe level of exposure to some of the pollutants, meaning that smoke can impact your health even at very low levels. 

Inhaling smoke from wildfires can cause headaches, sore and watery eyes, nose, throat, and sinus irritation, chest pains, heart palpitations and more. 

Who should be careful?

Exposure to elevated fine particle pollution levels can affect the lungs and heart.

The air quality alerts caution "sensitive groups," a big category that includes children, older adults, and people with lung diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Kids, who often are encouraged to go out and play, "are more susceptible to smoke for a number of reasons," said Laura Kate Bender, the lung association's National Assistant Vice President, healthy air. "Their lungs are still developing, they breathe in more air per unit of body weight."

No one is immune. 

What can you do for now?

It's a good time to put off that yard work and outdoor exercise. If you go out, consider wearing an N95 mask to reduce your exposure to pollutants.

Stay inside, keeping your doors, windows and fireplaces shut. It's recommended that you run the air conditioning on a recirculation setting.

When will conditions improve?

Conditions may not markedly improve for a couple of days.