Smoke from the wildfires raging in California has made its way nearly 2,000 miles to Columbia, where the sky has been dusky this week and the sun muted by a thick haze high in the atmosphere.

The smoke has followed the jet stream across the Midwest and as far east and north as Michigan, according to satellite photos from the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center.

Meteorologist Thomas Spriggs of the National Weather Service office in St. Louis said the layer of smoke had to reach heights of 15,000 to 20,000 feet, or nearly four miles up into the atmosphere, for it to travel this far east.

There should be no problem with air quality given that the smoke is so high above us, Spriggs said.

The smoke trail is having an impact on the weather, though.

“That kind of milky, hazy, muted sunlight appearance would be otherwise clear, with a nice blue sky overhead,” Spriggs said.

“It should also make for some really pretty sunrises and sunsets,” he said. “The smoke particles help to scatter light more, which is what gives us our sunset colors normally.”

Nearly 17,000 firefighters are battling 29 major wildfires in California. Since mid-August, the blazes have destroyed 4,100 buildings and killed 24 people in the state, according to the Associated Press. Fires have engulfed 3.3 million acres in California, an area bigger than Connecticut.

Spriggs believes the smoky haze is “gonna have its ebbs and flows” until the wildfires in California and Oregon are ultimately extinguished.

“We’ll see some days where there’s less or more smoke overhead in the atmosphere, because the steering flow in the atmosphere is not constant.”

  • Public Life reporter, Fall 2020 Studying investigative journalism Email me at or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

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