Meteorologists expect smoke from Canadian wildfires to remain over central Virginia until this weekend.

That means air quality will remain poor in Charlottesville and surrounding counties until around Saturday, and people should try and avoid exerting themselves outside, especially those with heart and lung issues.

The National Weather Service has issued a “code red air quality alert” for this area beginning Tuesday. That means, the air quality could become so poor that it could be dangerous for even healthy people to be physically active outside.

The air quality was not quite that bad in Albemarle County as of 10 a.m. Wednesday. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality measured the amount of fine particulate matter in the air to be at a moderate level, which is most dangerous to “unusually sensitive individuals” with heart or lung disease or older adults.

“That is currently moderate, but it's a high moderate,” said Dan Salkovitz, a VDEQ meteorologist.

Update: State escalates air quality alert in central Virginia to ‘very unhealthy' Thursday, warns people to limit activity outside.

And that could change at any time, he added. If the amount of fine particulate matter in Albemarle County increases just a bit, more groups of people become at risk for health issues — including children.

The issue is wind direction. Well, and wildfires.

As of Tuesday there were 240 wildfires deemed “out of control” by the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. Many are directly north of this area in the Québec province, and many have been burning for days.

As those fires burn, the smoke that billows from them contains the fine particle matter that the DEQ measures to determine weather quality.

Right now, there is an area of low atmospheric pressure just over New England, and the wind surrounding that area of low pressure is rotating counterclockwise, said Kevin Rodriguez, the lead forecaster with the National Weather Service in the Baltimore/Washington office. That circulation is perfect for grabbing up smoke and fine particles from those massive wildfires raging in eastern Canada and slinging it south over the mid Atlantic and into Virginia.

“We're going to be in this pattern for at least the next two or three days,” Rodriguez said. “And then another weather system will come in over the weekend. They might get some showers out of that Friday, but the main thing is it's going to change the wind direction so it will come from the west. And we'll finally get some cleaner air that's not coming from Canada.”

When that happens, the smoke from the fires will be pushed out over the Atlantic Ocean, he added.

In the meantime, folks in central Virginia can keep track of the air quality at this link. The site will take you to a map of Virginia. Click on the box over Charlottesville. That box will show the measured air quality at Albemarle High School, the only station in this region that measures air quality.

The changing weather patterns this weekend will give this area a welcome reprieve from smoke, Salkovitz said. But it's impossible to know how long it will last. As long as the wildfires continue burning in Canada, Virginia's air quality will be at the mercy of the winds.

The New York Times has created a map tracking the smoke from Canada's wildfires.

To learn more about the possible health concerns from breathing smoke, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a fact sheet that includes information about how to keep smoke and fine particles out of your home.

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