Foreboding orange skies cast more than a pall over Northern California

Photographers document the ash and smoke that are darkening skies and threatening air quality, a view of our climate-changed future.

Smoke hangs over Mount Diablo in Orinda, California, on Wednesday, September 9. As the state grapples with a particularly devastating wildfire season, strong winds have intensified outbreaks in Northern California, where wildfires are destroying homes and wreaking havoc on air quality.
Photograph by Sam Hall, Bloomberg/Getty Images

California residents awoke to an apocalyptic landscape on Wednesday as smoke from the wildfires scorching their way across the state blotted out the sun and tinted the skies an eerie shade of orange. California is currently battling more than two dozen major fires in a season that has already burned more than 2.5 million acres of land—a record figure—and the fire season runs for another four months. Warming temperatures due to climate change have led to longer and more devastating fire seasons in California.

In Northern California, strong, gusty winds intensified the flames of the Bear Fire, which ignited in August amid lightning-induced wildfires that forced evacuations across the region. Those winds blew smoke and ash as far as 150 miles south into the San Francisco Bay Area—lowering air quality to hazardous levels. Wildfire smoke contains a mix of gases and particles from burning vegetation, buildings, and other materials that can cause a number of health problems. It is especially dangerous during the pandemic, since wildfire smoke makes the lungs more susceptible to respiratory infections like COVID-19.

As seen in these photos, massive plumes of smoke cloaked the region in a surreal dark orange glow throughout the day. According to the Bay Area Air District, the phenomenon occurs when smoke particles in the air act as filters that scatter out the colors that form the spectrum of visible light. The particles block out most of the spectrum, but red and orange have longer wavelengths that help them break through the filter. Especially thick smoke, however, can absorb those colors, too—plunging some areas into darkness in the middle of the afternoon.

Read This Next

To regrow forests, the U.S. needs many more 'seed hunters'
How Berlin’s club scene is weathering the pandemic
Why you shouldn’t panic over the Omicron variant

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet