Why California Wildfires Have Turned the Sky Orange

Californians are experiencing orange skies as a result of the wildfires that are burning in the northwestern U.S. The scenes have been described as "apocalyptic" and compared to Blade Runner and Mars. But why have the skies turned orange?

Due to the numerous wildfires burning hundreds and thousands of acres on the West Coast, thick smoke is currently covering California and the Pacific Ocean.

The smoke particles are scattering blue light and only allowing yellow-orange-red light to reach the surface, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The smoke, therefore, makes the skies look orange and much darker than usual.

This is what taking off at #SFO into today’s #OrangeSky looked like. ☢️ pic.twitter.com/Y4ivsFQNkI

— San Francisco International Airport (SFO) ✈️😷 (@flySFO) September 10, 2020

Air District meteorologist Jarrett Claiborne explained that: "Visible light or sunlight is a combination of all the colors of the rainbow, from red to violet, and when we have particles in the air they can act as filters and can scatter certain colors out.

"With smoke, for example, that's filtering out other colors allowing red, orange, and yellow to reach the surface, so that's why we have those colors this morning."

Much of the smoke is above the ground due to the marine layer but some smoke is expected to reach down to the ground level.

The orange skies have transformed San Francisco into a dystopian scene, with many people drawing comparisons between the city and the world of Blade Runner 2049.

Kevin L. Lee shared photos of the view of the city next to scenes from the movie and they are almost indistinguishable from one another.

It is LITERALLY Blade Runner 2049 in California right now. pic.twitter.com/FAggbTQeNB

— Kevin L. Lee (@Klee_FilmReview) September 9, 2020

Local leaders are calling for more to be done about climate change as the orange skies provide a stark reminder of the effects of global warming.

California Governor Gavin Newsom shared photos of the orange skies on Twitter and said: "These pictures cry out for change. CA has invested more in wildfire prevention than any time in our history. Enacted bold climate policies. But it's not enough.

"We must do more. We need action at EVERY level. CA cannot do this alone. Climate change is REAL. So please — VOTE."

Jack Broadbent, executive officer of the Air District, said in a press release: "As this morning's eerily dark and orange skies demonstrate, smoke from the many fires that continue to burn throughout the Bay Area and other parts of California are continuing to impact the region.

"Although much of this smoke is aloft, it can settle down to ground level as weather conditions fluctuate, and residents should protect their health by staying indoors when the smell of smoke is present."

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is warning Bay Area residents to protect their health during this weather event and is encouraging people to avoid exposure by staying inside with windows and doors closed until smoke levels subside, if possible.

Bay Area residents are also encouraged to visit an air-cooling center if temperatures are too hot indoors and to set air conditioning units and car vent systems to re-circulate to prevent outside air from moving inside.

Orange Sky San Francisco
A woman walks along The Embarcadero under an orange smoke-filled sky in San Francisco on September 9. The orange skies have been caused by smoke particles filtering through red, orange, and yellow light. Brittany Hosea-Small/Getty

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