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Explaining the Code Red Air Quality Alert for the Carolinas

This is the first Code Red for poor air quality in Charlotte since the South Mountain State Park wildfires in November 2016.
Credit: WCNC Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A Code Red Air Quality Alert will be in effect for the Charlotte area Wednesday due to smoke funneling into the region from raging Canadian wildfires

This is the first Code Red Air Quality Alert in Charlotte since November 2016. WCNC Charlotte Chief Meteorologist Brad Panovich said this is only the second Code Red in the Charlotte area since 2012. You can expect to see more haze in the air over the Queen City, with Panovich expecting the smoke to linger for at least a few more days. 

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The entire Charlotte area is under the Code Red designation for poor air quality, including the following counties: Alexander, Anson, Ashe, Avery, Burke, Cabarrus, Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Richmond, Rowan, Stanly, Union and Watauga. 

Numerous South Carolina counties are under the alert, including Chester, Chesterfield, Lancaster and York.

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Tuesday saw a Code Orange Air Quality Alert for parts of North Carolina due to the smoke. Panovich said these alerts are issued for particulate pollutants in the air. In this case, it's smoke, compared to ground-level ozone, which is caused by a combination of emissions and sunlight

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a Code Red Air Quality index means everyone may begin to experience adverse health effects, and members of sensitive groups — such as people with asthma and other respiratory conditions — may experience serious effects. The EPA explains the AQI as a measurement from 0 to 500. 

A Code Red alert runs from 151 to 200 on the AQI scale. Wednesday's air quality forecast is a 151 but could register higher as more smoke fills the atmosphere over North Carolina, Panovich said. People should limit outdoor activity while a Code Red is in effect. 

The most recent Code Red was issued in November 2016 due to wildfires in western North Carolina. Typically, where there's smoke, there's fire. But in this case, the fires are burning about 1,000 miles away in Canada. 

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