Code Red Alert: What You Need to Know About Virginia’s Current Air Quality Issues 

A screenshot of the air quality forecast for parts of Virginia from the VA DEQ.

By Amie Knowles

June 7, 2023

On Thursday, five regions in Virginia are expected to have either “unhealthy” or “unhealthy for sensitive groups” air quality grades, due to wildfires in Canada.

The month of June is usually a wonderful time to explore the great outdoors—but not so much over the next few days. 

More than 400 raging wildfires in Canada impacted the air quality in 18 states on Wednesday morning. Virginia was no exception, with some parts of the commonwealth experiencing a Code Red Air Quality Alert (that means that air pollution concentrations are unhealthy for the general population).

To put things into perspective, Virginia has about 27.3 million acres. Yet, more than 9 million acres have been scorched by wildfires in Canada this year. Compared to the amount of wildfires Canada typically battles by June, CNN reported that the current year-to-date average exceeds the norm about 15 times. 

While New York City had some of the worst air quality in the world on Wednesday, Virginians also grappled with the smoke. Four regions in the commonwealth received either “unhealthy” or “unhealthy for sensitive groups” air quality grades from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) on Wednesday. 

The areas included:

  • Northern Virginia
  • Hampton Roads
  • Richmond
  • and Winchester.

Additionally, the Roanoke region received a “moderate” score, with a note that the air could be unhealthy for sensitive groups. 

On Thursday, all five Virginia regions mentioned are expected to have either “unhealthy” or “unhealthy for sensitive groups” air quality grades. 

Staying Safe

If it looks smokey outside, the VDEQ urges that folks shorten or choose less strenuous outdoor activities. 

If you have to go outside, Weather.gov and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released an infographic on potential signs and symptoms to be aware of, including:

  • Headaches
  • Irritated eyes and/or sinuses
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty Breathing 
  • Chest pains and/or asthma attacks
  • and an irritated throat and/or increased coughing.

“Seniors, children, and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk,” the infographic read in part. 

It’s difficult to predict how long the smoke could remain in Virginia. AccuWeather noted that there could be periodic improvements, followed by more poor air quality for impacted areas in the United States over the weekend. Next week, a potential storm over the Midwest could redirect the smoke back to Canada.

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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