Wildfires

Why The Skies Are Glowing Orange Over California

As wildfires continue to rage across California this summer, it is likely residents will continue to see the glowing skies, Mayeda said. It will take enough rain or wind to wipe out the smoke before our blue skies fully return

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Wildfires have created a bright orange glow across the skies from the Bay Area to San Diego County. But what causes the eerie color change captured by photographers across the West Coast?

NBC Bay Area Meteorologist Rob Mayeda explains it has to do with smoke pollution that lingers in the air and, in some cases, is falling to the ground.

PHOTOS: Bay Area Sky Turns Orange and Yellow As Smoke Blankets Region

The ash particles distribute the sunlight's wavelengths differently. Shorter wavelengths like blues scatter while longer wavelengths like reds and oranges can pass through the haze, Mayeda explains.

So, even more pollution means an even deeper shade of red -- which is not good news for those living beneath the fire-red skies.

"Air pollution around the Bay Area has gotten so bad, sometimes you can't even spot the sun and it gets dark enough that streetlights are staying on even in the middle of the day," Mayeda said.

In San Diego County, the glow from a redder-than-usual sun captivated audiences over the Labor Day Weekend but it was a grim reminder of a wildfire scorching thousands of acres to the east.

Spectators captured photos of a glowing red sun amid streaks of an orange and red haze but it was, unfortunately, smoke-filled skies from the Valley Fire burning in Japatul Valley that made for the spectacular sight, according to NBC 7 Meteorologist Sheena Parveen.

Photos: Why Wildfires Make For Captivating Sunrises and Sunsets

"When there are smoke particles in the air, the particles distribute light differently than a cloud would," NBC 7 Meteorologist Sheena Parveen said. "So with smoke particles, we tend to see more orange and red colors scattered across the sky."

And in the early morning and evening hours, when the sun's angle is closer to the Earth's horizon, the sky appears even more colorful as the sun's rays travel through more of the atmosphere, Parveen added.

Several onlookers hiked up Mount Helix early to take in the view from above, including long-time San Diego resident Denise Tiznado.

While enjoying the spectacular view, it was not lost on Tiznado that it was the result of devastation miles away.

“I was thinking that it’s sad to think about the people that have to evacuate during this time, especially during the time of the pandemic," she said.

She said seeing the haze from above gave her a different perspective on wildfires.

"I’ve lived in San Diego for a long time and [have] seen many fires but I’ve never seen it from this height and how heavy it is and the smell of it,” Tiznado said.

As wildfires continue to rage across California this summer, it is likely residents will continue to see the glowing skies, Mayeda said. It will take enough rain or wind to wipe out the smoke before our blue skies fully return.

Thousands of firefighters were working grueling hours to battle about a two-dozen major wildfires across the state, many caused by thousands of lightning strikes. Several people have died and thousands of structures have been destroyed.

The 2020 fire season has been record-breaking in California, with more than 2.2 million acres burned across the state thus far and the most dangerous part of the year still ahead.

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