COLUMBUS (WCMH) — You probably noticed something different about the sky Monday in Ohio. The ashen gray, hazy layer between the usual fair weather puffy clouds is high-altitude smoke from the massive wildfires in the western United States. The elevation of the thin layer of smoke is not a health hazard.

Midday haze fills the sky over the Columbus area. (Ben Gelber)

More than 4.6 million acres have been consumed by fires raging in the woodlands and rural areas west of the Rocky Mountains, where dry brush in the absence of the usual late summer monsoon rainfall has provided added fuel. Extreme drought and heat, and lightning in many instances, created a setup for a historic and deadly fire season in the West. Gusty winds fanned the flames.

NOAA satellite imagery Monday revealed an extensive plume of smoke from the devastating California wildfires that traveled 3,000 miles to the East Coast.

Ash and smoke were responsible for those dramatic reddish-orange skies over West Coast cities over the weekend. The reason is that clouds reflect the red-orange-yellow wavelengths of visible light that have been scattered by larger particles rising from the blazes. Fine residue aloft reaching the Midwest and East have added a orange tinge to sunrises and sunsets.

Haze blankets the sky above 12,000 feet and the shallower cloud formations. (Ben Gelber)

The 2020 record fire season in California, Oregon and Washington has taken at least 35 lives. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (CalFire) reported that six of the current wildfires are among the state’s 20 largest on record.

The August Complex Fire in Northern California is the most extensive on record, a combination of dozens of individual blazes in the Mendocino National Forest. The spark for these wildfires were sparked by lightning striking the forests in in August.

More than 1 million acres have been scorched in western Oregon, where firefighters are battling 13 major wildfires that created a toxic pall of smoke, mixed with fog with some shallow marine air. One benefit of this rare combination is lower temperatures. Ten deaths have been reported in Oregon.

Millions of residents in Oregon experienced reduced visibility and poor air quality. In some places, the visibility dropped to about 10 feet Sunday, hampering firefighting efforts. Gusty southerly winds and low humidity have made it more difficult to contain more than 7,700 wildfires of all sizes that have engulfed the region.

Parts of California have been scorched since late August, where 29 major wildfires are burning across the Golden State, according to CalFire, engaging more than 16,750 firefighters in the battle to contain the blazes that have taken at least 24 lives, and destroyed 3.3 million acres this year. Residents have contended with poor air quality and partial power shutoffs.

NOAA relies on satellite data and a new High-Resolution Rapid Refresh atmospheric model to project the path of of the smoke from wildfires. Conditions are expected to gradually improve with a shift in the winds later this week bringing in a layer of marine air.