Wildfire smoke returns: ‘Code Orange’ air quality for DC area Wednesday

Pedestrians dodge rain in Bethesda, Maryland. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

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Fast-moving thunderstorms rolled through parts of the D.C. area Tuesday afternoon, bringing heavy winds, reports of hail and “blinding downpours.” But smoke gets in your eyes Wednesday, when smoke from the Canadian wildfires comes back.

Some of the strongest storms hit Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties in Maryland on Tuesday, where multiple Severe Thunderstorm Warnings were issued throughout the afternoon.

As storm chances dissipate Tuesday, the D.C. area will need to contend with air quality on Wednesday.

The Maryland Department of the Environment said the air quality alert will be a “Code Orange,” which means it will be unhealthy for sensitive groups.

It’s a return of the smoke from the Canadian wildfires that swept through the D.C. area earlier this month.

“Northwesterly winds will transport wildfire smoke back into the region on Wednesday,” WTOP meteorologist Mike Stinneford said. This time, though, the smoke will be high in the atmosphere — around 20,000 to 25,000 feet. “So it won’t be the very bad air quality and visibility we had a few weeks ago,” he said.

Tuesday’s ‘blinding downpours’ and a motorcade stopping traffic

Shortly after 4 p.m., rain was still battering areas along Route 50, but much of the severe weather was “starting to weaken” and heading down the Bay Bridge, Stinneford said.

The rise of severe weather in Southern Maryland dwindled by 5:30 p.m. However, the heavy rain during the earlier storm led the weather service to issue a Flash Flood Warning for west-central Anne Arundel County, which has expired.

The storm dropped between 1 and 2.5 inches of rain in that area.

During the height of the storms, damaging winds, hail and “blinding downpours” led to traffic delays across the region, according to Stinneford. There were also delays, as long as 4 miles, due to a motorcade on the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway near Georgetown Pike.

There were reports of downed trees blocking the ramp from eastbound Leesburg Pike to northbound Chain Bridge Road in Tysons Corner, Virginia.

Also in Fairfax County, firefighters responded to downed power lines on Fox Mill Road.

The National Weather Service had issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for D.C., Northern Virginia and Montgomery County and Prince George’s County in Maryland. That warning expired at 3 p.m.


  • Tuesday: Partly cloudy. Lows in the 60s.
  • Wednesday: Partly cloudy. Highs 80 to 85.
  • Thursday: Mostly sunny. Highs in the mid to upper 80s.
  • Friday: Partly cloudy. Chance of an afternoon thunderstorm. Highs in the mid to upper 80s


Kate Corliss

Kate Corliss is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. She is a senior studying journalism at American University and serves as the Campus Life Editor for the student newspaper, The Eagle.

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