Ominous skies. Falling ash. A 20-degree temperature drop in the span of a day.
California has never seen anything quite like this.
New York Times journalist Thomas Fuller likened the apocalyptic orange pall fueled by hundreds of wildfires burning up and down the state to “a nuclear winter.” The Los Angeles Times called it “the day the sun gave up on 2020.”
Orange skies over San Jose today. Photos by CTP Watcher. pic.twitter.com/8KNvPyq6Ph
— CTP Watcher ✈️ (@WatcherCtp) September 10, 2020
The hazy atmosphere evokes dawn or dusk, sunrise or sunset—even at high noon—which has warped many people’s sense of time.
“Some figured they were dreaming and went back to bed,” Michael Cabanantuan and Steve Rubenstein wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle. “Some students slept through the start of their remote learning classes because it was still dark outside. And at least one father told his children they had moved overnight to Mars.”
— Terry 🌱 (@terrythethunder) September 10, 2020
The sky usually looks blue because of the way sunlight reflects off molecules in what scientists call a Rayleigh scattering. Larger particles wafting on a marine layer over the Bay Area scatter more than just the blue part of the color spectrum, including violet and green. What does that leave for the naked eye?
What we’re seeing now: orange and red.
Sunrises and sunsets exude a similar hue for the same reason—because of light filtering, or scattering, through more of the atmosphere as the sun nears the horizon.
Images of the eery phenomenon captured attention around the world.
Former President Barack Obama tweeted photos of the orange skies on Wednesday, saying they should remind us about the realities of climate change.
The fires across the West Coast are just the latest examples of the very real ways our changing climate is changing our communities. Protecting our planet is on the ballot. Vote like your life depends on it—because it does. pic.twitter.com/gKGegXWxQu
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) September 10, 2020
Presidential hopeful Joe Biden called the photos “horrifying.”
The images coming out of California, Oregon, Washington, and other Western states are truly horrifying. If you’re in an impacted area, please heed the warnings from your local authorities and stay safe. Jill and I are keeping you all in our prayers. https://t.co/39vcORJEBX
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 10, 2020
The colors overhead have since shifted from rust to more of an Instagram filter-like sepia. The air remains cool, but still unhealthy to breathe.
Forecasters expect the smoke-cooling reprieve from record heat to last for another few days, with highs in the 75-to-80-degree Fahrenheit range until the skies clear up again.