John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
And this could go on for several weeks.
Here's the weather forecast for Singapore for the next "several weeks": Massive plumes of wood smoke will roll over the city, reducing visibility to a matter of blocks and choking the daylights out of anyone outside. Stuff wet towels under doors and pray for monsoons to arrive early to snuff out the source of this foul air.
The source, of course, are those forest fires incinerating wide areas of Sumatra due to farmers performing illegal slash-and-burns to prep the ground for planting. With winds pushing the smoke eastward, residents of Sumatra are avoiding the worst of the polluted air – and appear to be rubbing this fact into the face of Singaporeans, with one Indonesian official telling them they're behaving like children when they complain. Which is kind of funny, considering that after a similar period of unchecked fires and smog in the 1980s, Indonesia's government cried out to the international community for help in fighting fires.
The air pollution in Singapore crested to its highest-ever recorded level on Thursday, at 371 on the Pollution Standards Index, and remained in the 200s across the country throughout the night. (Those levels are respectively considered "hazardous" and "very unhealthy" by U.S. standards.) Bringing home how wretched this situation's become are these satellite images that NASA acquired on Wednesday. The above shot displays how smoggy it was over Singapore and Malaysia at 11:30 a.m. local time. This one from 2:30 p.m. shows little change for the better (red dots indicate active blazes):
Pan out a bit and you can see how huge this column of nasty smoke is, with a width of more than 100 miles and a length that's much greater. Here's hoping boats loaded with air purifiers are en route to the region, because at this point many shops are sold out:
Images courtesy of Jeff Schmaltz at LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response