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With more hot weather blanketing New Jersey for the next several days, there is an increased risk of air quality ozone alerts being issued.

A contributing factor is the wildfires that continue to burn in the Western U.S. and Canada, sending massive clouds of smoke that wind up over the skies of the Garden State.

Asthma and allergy specialist Dr. Leonard Bielory, a professor at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine and a member of the New Jersey Clean Air Council, said several air quality alerts have been issued for those suffering with respiratory ailments and allergies because the wildfire smoke can irritate the eyes, nose, sinus and lungs.

He said even if you’re not allergic, “the particulate matter does irritate alone and will cause some mild conjunctivitis, inflammation of the eyes, a mile irritation of the nose where you have increased post-nasal drip that can lead to a cough.”

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Bielory said even if you are only mildly sensitive to allergens, “the irritants and pollutants coming our way will make you more sensitive to even a lower pollen count.”

Rutgers University-based New Jersey State Climatologist Dave Robinson said shifting high pressure systems and a wobbly jet stream make it hard to predict when the smoke will return in the skies over the Garden State.

“We anticipate that this will recur at times over the next couple of months,” he said.

“The path isn’t often a straight line from the Pacific Northwest to New Jersey, for instance. It may get lofted into southern Canada and then down here into the Northeast.”

Robinson said quite often the smoke is up in the atmosphere at 30,000 to 35,000 feet, but it can occasionally get pushed down, causing a heavy brown smog to form, similar to what we saw in late July.

He noted when smoky conditions form, sunlight tends to be blocked and surface temperatures may be a few degrees cooler than they normally would be. Heavy rains will help to clear the air of smoke particulates.

With more people wearing a mask again to limit exposure to COVID, it will also help to filter out particulate matter from the wildfire smoke as well as ragweed and other allergens people may be sensitive to, Bielory said.

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