Joggers run along the shore of Lake Michigan with heavy smoke from the Canadian wildfires in the background, on June 27, 2023, in Chicago, Illinois.
Kamil Krzaczynsky | AFP | Getty Images
Drifting smoke from the running forest fires across Canada is creating curtains of mist and raising air quality concerns in the Great Lakes region and parts of the central and eastern United States.
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That of the Environmental Department AirNow.gov The site showed Tuesday afternoon that parts of Illinois, lower Michigan and southern Wisconsin had the worst air quality in the US, and Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee had air quality categorized as “very unhealthy.”
In Minnesota, a record 23rd air quality alert was issued across much of the state Tuesday through Wednesday evening as smoky skies obscure the skylines of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy has issued a statewide air quality alert. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has also issued an air quality advisory for the state.
In Chicago, officials urged young people, the elderly and residents with health problems to spend more time indoors.
“Just driving into the zoo… you could just look around the buildings, kind of a blur,” said Shelly Woinowski, who visited Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo.
Some Chicago-area daycare centers have told parents their children will stay indoors on Tuesday due to poor air quality, while a youth sports club says it is adjusting its activities to spend more time indoors.
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“As these unsafe conditions continue, the city will continue to provide updates and take prompt action to ensure vulnerable individuals have the resources they need to protect themselves and their families,” Mayor Brandon Johnson said in a press release.
In the Milwaukee area, Flight for Life Wisconsin was unable to respond to a motor-van crash because the Federal Aviation Administration requires 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) of visibility, and visibility was reduced to three-quarters to 1.5 miles (1.2-2.4 kilometers). ) because of the hazy skies, executive director Leif Erickson said.
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Fires in northern Quebec and low pressure over the eastern Great Lakes are sending smoke through northern Michigan and through southern Wisconsin and Chicago, said Bryan Jackson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Jackson added that a northerly wind would push the smoke farther south and move into Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky later Tuesday night.
The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center reported Monday that 76,129 square kilometers (29,393 sq mi) of land including forests have burned all over Canada since January 1. That’s more than the previous 1989 record of 75,596 square kilometers (29,187 square miles), according to the National Forestry Database.
There are currently 490 fires nationwide, of which 255 are considered uncontrollable.
Even Quebec’s recent rainfall probably won’t be enough to put out the wildfires ravaging the northern part of that province, but the wet weather could give firefighters a chance to get ahead of the flames, officials said Tuesday.
Nearly a quarter of Canada’s fires occur in Quebec. Environment Canada meteorologist Simon Legault said he expects it to stop raining Wednesday morning in the regions most affected by wildfires.
Earlier this month, massive fires burning vast Canadian forests blanketed the Northeastern United States and the Great Lakes region, turning the sky yellowish-gray and prompting warnings for people to stay indoors and keep windows closed.
The tiny particles in the smoke from wildfires can irritate the eyes, nose and throat and can affect the heart and lungs, making it harder to breathe. Health officials say it’s important to limit outdoor activities as much as possible to avoid inhaling these particles.
“Until the fires are out, there is a risk,” Jackson said. “If there’s a northerly component in the wind, there’s a chance it could get smoky.”
In early June, US President Joe Biden said in a statement that hundreds of US firefighters and support personnel had been in Canada since May, drawing attention to the fires as a reminder of the impacts of climate change.
According to Joel Thornton, professor and chair of the atmospheric sciences department at the University of Washington, the warming planet will produce hotter and longer heat waves, creating bigger, smokier fires.
Priti Marwah, who embarked on a run along the city’s lake, describes the haze in Chicago Tuesday as “bad.”
“Like you stink,” she said. “I run a hundred miles a week, so this is going to be dangerous today. You feel it… even when I park there and come out, I feel it in my lungs.”
Smoke from the wildfires moved into Minnesota late Monday and smoke is expected to linger at ground level in southern, eastern, central and northeastern Minnesota. That includes the Twin Cities area, up to the northeast corner of the state, and down to the southwest and southeast corners.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency tweeted that Tuesday was Minnesota’s 23rd air quality alert this year, breaking the previous record of 21 set in 2021. Minnesota usually has two or three cautions per season.
St. Paul recorded the worst air quality in the United States two weeks ago due to smoke from Canadian wildfires. As of Tuesday afternoon, air quality in eastern Minnesota, from the Canadian border to the Iowa border, was rated “unhealthy.”
The MPCA said a cold front will move across Minnesota on Wednesday, bringing cleaner air from the west through the region by early Thursday.
But on Tuesday, the impending postponement meant little to Dan Daley, a resident of St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
“It’s kind of miserable some days because you can’t spend much time outside,” he said.
Daley said he smelled — and tasted — smoke in the air when he left the house this morning. He noticed a hazy sky and wondered if that will be the norm for future summers in the area. When the air quality makes it unhealthy to be outside, Daley struggles with the things he enjoys, such as hiking, camping, and walking around town.
He worries that people in other parts of the country who haven’t experienced days of poor air quality will think it’s no big deal. “If they don’t think the smoke is that bad, they should come here and see for themselves,” Daley said.