NSW has succumbed to the highest levels of air pollution from smoke ever recorded, as Sydneysiders wake to air quality conditions worse than Shenzhen, China. Some of the smoke is reaching as far away as South America.
Air quality in the harbour city was ranked ninth poorest in the world on Friday when compared with other cities, with the visibility index at every suburban monitoring station reaching “hazardous” levels, thanks to the state’s unrelenting drought and intense bushfire season.
The Environment, Energy and Science unit of the NSW government said the past two months “have been the dustiest on record”.
“The impacts of the severe and ongoing drought have led to the highest levels of dust recorded in NSW since our rural air quality monitoring networks began during the millennium drought,” a spokeswoman for the unit said.
Smoke-related particulate pollution, including those below 2.5 microns in size – known as PM2.5, which can be absorbed into the bloodstream – has also been off the charts.
“Smoke from the current bushfire emergency is having widespread impacts across northern NSW, the North Coast, Northern Tablelands and into the Hunter and Sydney regions,” the spokeswoman said.
“PM2.5 pollution levels from this smoke are the highest ever recorded in NSW.”
The outlook will be little improved for areas close to the bushfires and in locations impacted by smoke blown from the fires, she said.
The smoke plumes have been wafting over the Tasman to New Zealand, but as NASA shows, reaching even as far away as South America.
Poor air quality set in across the city on Thursday as a result of strengthening northerly winds blowing smoke from the state’s north over greater Sydney and the Illawarra.
On Friday morning, air quality was the most hazardous across Sydney’s north-west, in Parramatta North, Richmond, St Marys, Prospect, Rouse Hill, and in parts of the south west.
Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Abrar Shabren said the smoke would remain thick and “persistent” in Sydney throughout Friday.
“The smoke in greater Sydney has been driven by bushfires in the north, with changes in wind direction over the past few days pushing it further down south from the actual fire ground,” he said.
“The thickness will change as we go through the course of the day as easterly winds push the smoke over the inner and west of sydney…where conditions will be the worst.”
The bureau issued road weather alert on Friday morning, warning motorists about dangerous driving conditions due to reduced visibility on Friday.
So when can greater Sydney expect relief from the smoky haze?
“It’s a good question. The fires are still burning and with onshore and offshore winds the smoke might go away, only to come back again. It’s all going to be affected by the wind,” Mr Shabren said.
“Bushfires will continue to degrade air quality for large parts of NSW. Looking into tomorrow and the next couple of days there will be smoke around Sydney, the Illawarra and the north coast.”
On Friday morning, southerly winds blew in across the city about 6am, with gusts of up to 60 kilometres per hour.
NSW Health has advised all residents in areas of “hazardous” air quality to significantly cut back on outdoor physical activities and for sensitive groups to remain indoors.
Where air quality is “poor”, people from susceptible groups are advised to monitor their condition and keep reliever medication nearby.
There are no total fire bans in NSW on Friday, however the Rural Fire Service said there is “widespread very high fire danger for areas in the north and through central NSW”.
At 9pm on Thursday night, there were 62 bush and grass fires burning in NSW, 24 still to be contained. On Friday, all fires are now back at “advice” level.
Dry storm cells are moving across southern and western parts of NSW, with little to no rain forecast.
Firefighters will use favourable conditions on Friday to work on strengthening and consolidating containment lines.
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