Wildfires Smoke Is Enveloping Mexico City and Could Reach the U.S. This Week

Illustration for article titled Wildfires Smoke Is Enveloping Mexico City and Could Reach the U.S. This Week
Photo: AP

It doesn’t matter if you live on Earth or Westeros, it’s all going to burn down eventually. I’ll leave the Game of Thrones analysis to io9, especially since I’ve never seen the show. But now that my topical intro has hooked you, allow me to tell you about what’s going on in Mexico.


Massive wildfires in southern Mexico have sent smoke streaming over Mexico City, turning the sunsets blood red and sending pollution levels skyrocketing. The city’s environment commission has warned residents to stay indoors, and pollution levels could spike further in the coming days. The U.S. National Weather Service has already detected smoke aloft in U.S. skies because wildfires don’t care about borders.

According to the AP, 11 municipalities have called for a state of emergency in Oaxaca due to the recent rash of fires. It’s not immediately clear what sparked the fires, but most ignitions in the state are usually tied to human activity such as agriculture and forestry. NASA satellite imagery from this weekend reveals dozens of hot spots across the region with swirls of smoke blanketing the southern half of Mexico and spilling into Central America. Spot fires also ignited around Mexico City.


The blazes come after an explosive spring. The AP report said 100,000 acres burned through March alone.

The smoke from the blazes has drifted over Mexico City, which also dealt with its fair share of spot fires. The air quality index has been elevated in recent days around the city. On Monday, the highest reading was 172, which is considered unhealthy air. Forecasts indicate that air quality levels could reach very unhealthy levels tonight into tomorrow morning’s commute. That has the Environmental Commission of the Megapolis (easily the best environment commission name) warning residents to stay indoors. Closer to the fires, models (and common sense) indicate that air quality is much worse.

All this is bad for Mexico City and areas close to the fires, and the smoke could also make its way to the U.S. Right now, a big dip in the jet stream is keeping the U.S. pretty cool and most smoke bottled in Mexico save a few areas of southern Texas. But that jet stream dip should lift later this week, and the National Weather Service in Houston warned that “it’s likely some of the smoke pooling in Gulf of Mexico from fires in southern Mexico and Central America will make its way northward.” It’s unclear if it will enough smoke to degrade air quality, but it could definitely make for some striking sunsets.

One offbeat but disconcerting impact of wildfire smoke drifting into the region could be its ability to influence tornadoes. Research published in 2015 looked at how smoke from fires in Mexico and Central America helped influence a major tornado outbreak in April 2011 that killed 313 people in the U.S. The findings show that the smoke allowed clouds to form lower and increase wind shear, a key ingredient for tornadoes. That’s not to say these fires will in turn spawn tornadoes by any means, but it’s another weird reminder of the unfortunate ways in which our world is connected, much like Jon and Dany’s genealogies.


Managing editor, Earther

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