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We didn’t know that the smoke was coming, for instance. On Tuesday morning, meteorologists predicted that the same moderate haze that has hung around all season would again hit the East Coast. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation put out an alert saying that the air quality index, or AQI, might rise to 150 across the state.

They did not forecast — nobody, as far as I can tell, did — that the worst air pollution in decades would soon wallop the state. By Tuesday night, New York City’s AQI had already reached 174, according to Environmental Protection Agency data. As I walked home in D.C., I could see tendrils of visible smoke hugging the upper stories of apartment buildings.

This prediction failure gave the ensuing response a halting, confused quality. How could such a massive event come out of nowhere? Not until Thursday afternoon — when the smoke had nearly passed — did the federal government advise its workers that they could telework or take vacation time to avoid the bad air. On Friday, New York closed in-person schools, just in time for blue sky to return.