Southwest Virginia under Code Orange air quality alert

‘Avoid any physical activity outdoors,’ experts say

ROANOKE, Va. – Theresa and Jeff Lowther traveled to the Star City from Kansas to visit their daughter this week but were met by a hazy skyline.

“Definitely disappointed in the views that we thought we were going to see versus what we do see,” Theresa said.

Winds pushed the smoke from Canada’s wildfires farther south, making its way to Southwest Virginia. Visitors at the Mill Mountain Star feeling the effects Thursday.

“We’ve been doing some hiking and so forth, so you can tell a little bit of a difference as far as your breathing and how well you’re breathing in,” Jeff said.

“Just when I hiked today, I mean, I think it was definitely a little harder to breathe,” said Michael Thieben, who lives in Roanoke.

Southwest Virginia is under a Code Orange air quality alert, meaning it’s unhealthy for sensitive populations like children, older adults, and anyone with lung or heart conditions.

“Definitely aware and thinking about my lungs and how well they’re operating and watching whether I need a break or not,” Theresa said. “I actually have asthma, so I am taking my medicine and definitely slowed down when we were walking because I could feel the air and the poor quality of it.”

Dan Salkovitz, a meteorologist with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, says the air quality in Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Hampton Roads is even worse, considered unhealthy for anyone to spend time outside.

“I would avoid, certainly avoid any physical activity outdoors,” Salkovitz said. “If you’re doing physical activity, it increases your respiration. You’re breathing in more and, in this case, you’d be breathing in more smoke particles.”

Phil Hysell, the warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, says conditions should improve over the next few days, but until the skies clear, take precautions.

“You want to limit your time outside, take frequent breaks, don’t do long-term exercises outside or activities outside that take a lot of exertion, and monitor your health,” Hysell said. “If you feel like you’re coughing, or you’re shorter of breath more frequently, seek medical help.”

You can check the current air quality forecast here.

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